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Tag Archive: Distributed reporting

Kudos to USAToday! Now Let’s See That Lobbyist List…

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USA Today, and its reporters Matt Kelley and Peter Eisler, have an astounding story out that today that really advances our knowledge of the extent of insiderism on Capitol Hill, and how Congress really has become a family business. And as you read the next few paragraphs, remember that they looked at two committees--JUST TWO COMMITTEES--the House and Senate Appropriations Committees--to get their totals. Think what we'll turn up when we've done the whole Congress!

Members of Congress and their staffs are barred from using their positions for personal profit. But their spouses and other relatives can — and often do — cash in when lawmakers spend taxpayer dollars.

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Help Us Design the Next Phase of the Family Business Investigation

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While we're wrapping up the last loose ends of the first part of our Is Congress a Family Business? investigation, I'd like to share a few suggestions for what we do next, solicit as many suggestions as possible for alternatives, and get people thinking about how we could better design the tools for going forward. A few notes: I'd like to continue looking at family members of members of Congress, and I'd like to do so systematically--that is, focusing on Congress as an institution rather than digging into just one or two members. Here we list 19 members of the House who pay their spouses salaries and wages directly from their campaign treasuries, adding money donated to their campaigns to their family budgets. There are also members with close relatives that are registered to lobby Congress (here's a partial list compiled by the Associated Press) or who represent foreign interests. I would like us to develop as comprehensive an index as possible on family members of Congress who are in the business of electioneering or influence.

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Citizen Journalists Investigated 435 House Members in less than two days!

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Citizen Muckrakers have investigated 437 members of Congress, and tentatively found 19 spouses who were paid by a member's campaign committee-totaling some $641,200 since January 1, 2005. Incredible!--in less than two days, a virtual investigative team dug through campaign finance records for 435 current members of Congress, trying to find out of they paid their spouses from campaign funds. There were 24 of us (myself included--I looked up six members) who left our names, and 83 members investigated by anonymous researchers. I'm not sure whether that's actually 83 individual researchers, or one very industrious but bashful person, or some total in between, but our tech folks should be able to give us some idea of what the actual number of participants was.

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House Family Business: Past the Half Way Point!

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Citizen journalists have now investigated 258 members of Congress, and tentatively identified a dozen spouses who've been cumulativel paid $455,539. Incredible. A huge thanks to all who've participated--whether you've done one, two or dozens. A special thanks to KCinDC, who's been an indefatigable machine, and to VaAntiRepublican, who's chipped in a couple of dozen. And remember, this is only phase one of a multipronged investigation into family members of members of Congress who work in the political system as fundraisers, for political action committtees, or as lobbyists,

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Holy Cow! 170 in 7 hours!

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It's about seven hours since we launched the Congressional Spouse Project, and citizen journalists have investigated 170 members of Congress! Thanks to everyone who's made the effort, and remember--only 265 members to go! Also remember that this is just phase one--we've got plenty more areas to dig into. Stay tuned, and again, thanks to all of you who've gotten us off to such a great start! Update:10:45--about 15 minutes to go to the end of Battlestar Galactica--and we're up to 209 members checked. Incredible!

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Find out if Congress is a Family Business

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Rep. Richard Pombo did it with his wife and his brother. In his 2004 presidential campaign, Sen. Joseph Lieberman did it with his children. Former Majority Leader Tom DeLay did it with his wife and daughter. All have hired relatives to work on their campaigns, paying them salaries out of special interest contributions. Our system of campaign finance is often called "legalized bribery," in which special interests donate tens of thousands of dollars to a member's campaign committee in the hopes of advancing their own issues. Some members of Congress, by hiring their spouses, in effect use their campaign treasury to supplement their own bank accounts. The practice is legal, disclosed in obscure corners of campaign finance reports, and rarely mentioned by those who cover campaigns. And now citizen journalists can investigate it!

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When It Comes to Pork, Suspension of the Rules Means Just That

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So, on Sept. 14, the House passed a rule that aimed to bring some transparency to the earmarking process: Members names would have to be attached to the earmarks they sponsored. While the goal is worthy, it seemed to me that this particular rule was fairly modest at best, and potentially even counterproductive; since then, we've learned just how modest a reform the rules change is--it doesn't apply to earmarks already inserted in 10 of the big appropriations bills.

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Do-it-yourself Data

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Parke Wilde, writing at the U.S. Food Policy blog, has a pretty good idea: take data from different sources, line it up and organize it by congressional district, and then present it--either graphically (a map) or in a table, for easy analysis--to find out what individual members are up to. I'll return to this in a minute--and it's an intriguing notion that fits in with something I've been kicking around in my head for a while--but first let's look at what Wilde did: he looked at campaign contributions from C-Span, farm subsidy payments from the Environmental Working Group and earmarked pork projects from Citizens Against Government Waste all in a single disctrict -- that of Rep. Tom Latham, R-Iowa, a member of the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee.

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Attention to Earmarks Yields Results

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Robert McElroy of the excellent and incredibly informative TheWeekinCongress.com dropped us a line saying,

the House bill report on military commissions this week now includes a section stating whether or not there are earmarks in the bill. That came as a result of the House Resolution last week.
He adds that it's the attention that the blogosphere has directed to this issue that's made the difference.

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Keeping the Spotlight on Earmarks

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Jonathan Allen, writing in The Hill, exposes some earmarks sponsored by Rep. Steve Chabot for institutions with connections to some of his closest political supporters (read: donors and fundraisers). Reading the story, I couldn't help but think how much it was like our own Exposing Earmarks effort that focused on H.R. 5647, the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education appropriations bill--find the earmarks, tie them to a member of Congress, and then look into who's benefiting. First, what makes Allen's story in The Hill so interesting is that it rather perfectly illustrates one of the main ways in which earmarks are abused:

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