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Tag Archive: Distributed reporting

APME, Member Papers Turn Reporters Loose on Earmarks

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So what happens when reporters around the country investigate earmarks, digging into resources like the exhaustive compendium of fiscal year 2008 earmarks put out by Taxpayers for Common Sense and the wealth of influence data that the Center for Responsive Politics assembles on Open Secrets, and then ask members of Congress about what they've found? Well, they get incredibly revealing defenses of how earmarks work, like this one from Rep. Tim Holden that was reported by the Republican Herald of Pottsville, Pa:

“People you do business with contribute to your campaign,” Holden said in a phone interview Friday. “This was a constituent of mine who was having trouble doing business with the Pentagon, having trouble getting through the bureaucracy.”
So are some members of Congress in business with their earmark recipients, exchanging help getting through the bureaucracies for campaign cash? That's what a remarkable project that the Associated Press Managing Editors, the Sunlight Foundation, scores of reporters at dozens of newspapers tried to find out.

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The Wisdom of Crowds: Political Reporting Style

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Arianna Huffington is entering the world of citizen journalism with her announcement of a new project: The Wisdom of Crowds Hits the Campaign Trail. It's got the makings of a great effort: she's recruiting citizen journalists from around the country to cover the major presidential candidates and asking each of them to contribute to a candidate-specific group blog -- offering written updates, campaign tidbits, on-the-scene observations, photos, or original video. The goal is to provide more sources of information, and more outside-the-mainstream voices on the upcoming presidential campaign. She's got the readership to make it happen.

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TPM Muck Distributed Research on Attorney Purge

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If you've got some time on your hands go and help TPM Muckraker comb through the 3,000 Justice Department and White House documents dumped on the Judiciary Committees last night. Head to TPM Muckraker's website to follow these instructions:

So here's what we're going to do. This comment thread will be our HQ for sorting through tonight's document dump.

And to make it efficient and comprehensible, we'll have a system. As you can see on the House Judiciary Committee's website, they've begun reproducing 50-page pdfs of the documents with a simple numbering system, 3-19-2007 DOJ-Released Documents 1-1, then 1-2, then 1-3, etc. So pick a pdf, any pdf and give it a look. If you find something interesting (or damning), then tell us about it in the comment thread below.

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Who Bought John Edwards’s House?

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Obviously, there's no shortage of things going on...Rep. John Conyers and his use of taxpayer-funded staff as babysitters, personal chauffeurs and campaign workers (read the tepid press release from the House Ethics Committee here; the Washington Examiner weighs in with a tough editorial here). House Democrats have apparently chosen to exclude Republicans from participating in the deliberations over the opening legislative agenda in the 110th Congress, according to the Washington Post--including the package of ethics reforms. I can't say I'm surprised by this, but it seems to me that if there's one subject that requires a lot of thought, debate and discussion, and requires some bipartisan consensus, it's how we fix the way our special-interest-beholden, publicly denigrated Congress goes about its business. It seems to me that the goal should be to render as transparent as possible the way that, say, a Rep. John Murtha operates. I'd be willing to wait an extra 100 hours, or even 200 hours, to get there. That said, I'm not entirely persuaded that involving House Republicans would do the trick.

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Still Exposing Earmarks

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Michael Petrelis may be a little late to the exposing earmarks party that we at Sunlight were part of last summer, but he asks exactly the kinds of thoughtful questions that any constituent, as part of his citizen oversight duties, should get answered from a representative in Congress. Petrelis is asking them of Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the soon-to-be House Speaker--it will be interesting to see how quickly, and thoroughly, she responds.

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Family Business — First Update

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Wow. We're a little past the four hour mark, and we're through 24 states and 188 members. I'll continue to keep an eye on progress tonight, but this has once again been an incredible effort. Thanks to all who are making round two as successful as the first go round!

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Is Congress A Family Business, Round Two

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It's your last chance to investigate the 109th Congress before Election Day! Who else besides Julie Doolittle has a company that works for her spouse's campaign? How many federal contractors employ spouses of members of Congress? Have nonprofits that receive part of their funding from congressional appropriations hired spouses of members? It's up to you to find out! Round Two of "Is Congress a Family Business" is now online! Thanks to our too modest Web design genius, it's still as slick and user friendly as round one.

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Citizen Journalists Find Spouses of Incumbents Paid with Campaign Cash

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Some 19 current members of the House of Representatives pay their spouses out of their campaign war chests, totaling more than $636,000 in the current election cycle, a study by citizen journalists working with the Sunlight Foundation has found. Phase one of the "Is Congress A Family Business?" investigation is now complete. Using an innovative tool developed by Sunlight Labs, about 40 volunteers investigated anywhere from one to as many as 155 members, uncovering those who, by hiring their spouses to work for their campaign, allow special interest cash to enter their family budgets. While the federal nepotism statute prohibits members of Congress from hiring spouses to work in their Washington or district offices, there is no law preventing members from hiring family members to work for their campaign committees, provided they render bona fide services to the campaign at fair market value.

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Update on Family Business: Moving Toward Phase Two

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We've gotten some great feedback on planning the next round of our Congressional Family Business investigation, both from inside the office, from some of the folks who made the first round such a success, and from some smart observers (thanks to David Cohn for posting that at Digg!). We're starting to design phase two now (what this means in practice is that I get to keep bothering our Sunlight Labs geniuses with questions that begin with cringe-inducing phrases like, "How quickly could you..." or "How hard would it be to..." or "Would it be possible to..."). I'm really excited about round two; and even though we won't be able to incorporate all the excellent suggestions we've gotten right away, this step will include some of your ideas while also giving us the building blocks to do some never-before-seen investigations, like figuring out whether spouses work for companies or organizations that have gotten federal contracts or grants (something our friends at OMB Watch have made possible through FedSpending.org), or for firms that lobby or hire lobbyists to influence Congress.

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A Footnote on Disclosure Prompted by the Ongoing Weldon Investigation

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The Washington Post, and reporters R. Jeffrey Smith and Carol D. Leonnig, have more on the investigation of Rep. Curt Weldon, his daughter, and some of his close political allies. What's interesting to me is how much of the information in the story comes from documents that federal law requires lawmakers and the lobbyists that try to influence them to disclose, and how little of that information is actually available to the public in a useful, searchable form. For example, Smith and Leonnig report on privately funded junkets to Serbia, Russia and Jacksonville, Fla., taken by Weldon and a member of his staff; if it weren't for the efforts of groups like the Center for Public Integrity and now the Center for Responsive Politics, those reports would be available only to researchers who trekked down to the Capitol.

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