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Tag Archive: Committee Transparency

The Legislation Will Not Be Televised

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This map distinguishes five levels of legislative web and broadcasting comprehension on a sliding scale from “Best” (including all recommended elements: video formatting of floor proceedings and committee hearings, archived, and broadcasted via a variety of mediums) to “Worst” (missing several of these recommended elements). For more info (or to watch!) see the NCSL's original roundup here.

Open legislative data is integral to a functioning legible participatory democracy. The legislative data canopy covers everything from information about who represents you to the nuts and bolts of the legislative process to final letter of the law, with each element carrying its own series of challenges and considerations when it comes to public access. Timely and archived legislative process data (i.e. bills, amendments, committee meetings, votes, and contextual information, such as: research reports, legislative journals and lobbying information) are crucial to supporting citizen participation and informed voting. Video documentation of the legislative process represents the barebones of open and accountable legislative process data -- passive recordings of events as they happen for prosperity and public inclusion -- and yet this information is still not comprehensively available in most U.S. states.

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S.1 In Action: Senate Ethics Committee Reports

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I've spent a lot of time on this blog deriding the Senate Ethics Committee - and the frivolous complaints leveled by Sen. John Ensign against the current ethics process - for failing to investigate Senators who have allegedly violated the trust of their office (or the law, in the case of Sen. Ted Stevens). Thanks to the recently passed ethics bill, S.1, we finally get some transparency in the Ethics Committee and some statistical information about the committee's activities. The Committee is now required to issue an annual report of activity. Here are some highlights:

Number of alleged violations received in 2007 (from any source): 95 (not including the 16 carried over from 2006)

Number of alleged violations dismissed in 2007 (including 7 cases carried over from 2006): 86 (71 for lack of jurisdiction; 15 for failure to provide sufficient facts)

Number of alleged violations which resulted in a preliminary hearing: 16 (includes 9 matters carried over from 2006 and 5 matters that have carried into 2008)

Number of alleged violations that resulted in adjudicatory review: 0

Number of alleged violations dismissed for lack of substantial merit: 11 (includes 7 matters carried over from 2006)

Number of matters resulting in disciplinary action: 0

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Committees Still Lag in Transparency

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At the end of the 109th Congress I wrote a couple of blog posts (1, 2) showing how congressional committees failed to post transcripts and audio or video files of their hearings on their Web sites. After a careful review of the committees at the time it turned out that approximately 50% of both House and Senate committee hearings were available in any of those three formats. Thanks to the new lobbying, ethics, and disclosure bill committees in the Senate will soon be required to post one of these three formats within 21 days of the conclusion of a hearing for every hearing. Currently the committees of the 110th Congress seem to be slacking on online disclosure just as much as their predecessors. Voterwatch has created a list of links to committee Web sites and their hearing transcripts and audio or video files. It looks like committees continue to fail the openness test.

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Rep. Markey Takes to YouTube

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In a first for Congress, Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) took a video camera and filmed the first user created video from the perspective of a Congressional Committee Chairman. This is an amazing step in the right direction for Congress as they grapple with adopting to new mediums of communication and new technology. Also, I'm glad that Rep. Markey has decided to embed his YouTube video on his member web site and push the envelope as David All and I suggest in the Open House Project section on Member Web Use Restrictions.

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DIY Transparency in Virginia

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Is Virginia the epicenter of the use of digital video in politics? First we have S.R. Sidarth’s YouTube video of then-Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) calling the University of Virginia student a “macaca” (which we all now know to be a racist term). Now the Democrats in the state legislature have gone to videotaping committee hearings that have been scheduled during off-hours -- early in the morning and late at night -- and therefore do not have to be recorded. Call it DIY transparency.

The videotaping effort, called Assembly Access, began after the Republican majority changed the rules to allow bills to be killed in subcommittees without recorded votes. After a minimum wage increase bill -- the top bill on Democrats’ agenda -- was killed in a subcommittee without ever receiving a vote the minority went to the videotaping tactic to show the public what was going on behind the scenes.

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Senate Agrees to Amendment on Committee Transparency

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Yesterday during the debate on the Senate ethics legislation Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Co.), along with cosponsor Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), introduced an amendment to require that each Senate committee and subcommittee post to their website “a video recording, audio recording, or transcript of any meeting not later than 14 business days after the meeting occurs.” Salazar’s amendment (SA 15), which modifies Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nevada) substitute amendment SA 3, was agreed to by a voice vote yesterday.

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