Some House members have been reimbursed more than $80,000 since 2010 for driving their own car on official business. The practice is legal, though most representatives avoid doing so.Continue reading
It's 2013, and the Library of Congress seems to think releasing public data about Congress is a risk to the public. The Library of Congress is in charge of [THOMAS.gov](http://thomas.loc.gov/), and its successor [Congress.gov](http://congress.gov). These sites publish some of the most fundamental information about Congress — the history and status of bills. Whether it's immigration law or SOPA, patent reform or Obamacare, the Library of Congress will tell you: *What is Congress working on? Who's working on it? When did that happen?* Except they won't let you download that information.Continue reading
These House leaders all receive more money from the 1% of the 1% than they do from small donors (under $200). With the exception of John Boehner, the U.S. House leaders we profiled received roughly between 6 times and 16 times more money from the 1% of the 1% than they did from small donors.Continue reading
The House of Representatives’ document portal, docs.house.gov, launched in January 2012 with a surprisingly rich and relevant set of data:... View ArticleContinue reading
The House Rules Committee released a resolution earlier today that contains proposed rules for the House of Representatives for the 113th Congress. It also released a summary of the proposed changes. These standing rules govern most facets of how the House operates, and the House Republican Conference will meet on January 2nd to consider the proposal. (In addition to considering the rules for the House, we expect that the Republican Conference will adopt and then make its own rules available online for the 113th Congress.) In December, the Sunlight Foundation released recommendations on how the House should update its rules to be more transparent. We are pleased to note that the resolution would expand the House's anti-nepotism rule to include grandchildren and reauthorizes the Office of Congressional Ethics. We are still studying the other changes. We had hoped that the House would adopt a chamber-wide presumption in favor of public access to information as well as create a public index of the information it holds, but that doesn't seem likely at this time. When you add together the changes the House made at the start of the 112th Congress (which we redlined here and made recommendations regarding here), the 3 transparency conferences it held during the 112th (including a hackathon), the release of the transparency portal docs.house.gov, rules for publishing documents online, and much more, it's clear that the House in a number of respects has become a more transparent institution over the last two years. We hope that the leadership's enthusiasm for openness does not wane, which can become a concern the longer a party stays in power.Continue reading
In the past 20 years, Congress has effectively allowed its legislative support branches to wither and stripped away its ability to process information. It has cut back its ability to review, contextualize, and evaluate information in a way that creates informed policy. Lorelei Kelly, leader of the Smart Congress pilot project at the New America Foundation, looks into this trend in a new paper: "Congress' Wicked Problem." It explores topics we have discussed in a series of posts on the House and Senate. She explains how much of the cutting to the policymaking infrastructure of Congress came in the mid-1990s. That was also the era of cutting the shared staff who had historically built knowledge and expertise around certain topics. Some members of Congress used these shared staff to their advantage, giving relatives and friends plum positions with little real work, but for the most part shared staff were a valuable asset. A rule change in 1995 cut pooled funding for staff and essentially eviscerated the caucus system. Kelly does a fantastic job of explaining in detail what impacts that cut had, showing how the knowledge gap was filled with a new top-down system of information handed out by party leaders. The paper makes an important distinction between information and knowledge in Congress. While lawmakers might receive plenty of information from lobbyists and interest groups, they have a weakened ability to seek other views and context for the flood of spin coming from K Street. Another key change Kelly notes is the elimination of the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) in 1995. Congress created the nonpartisan agency in 1972 to look at the impacts of technology policy decisions. After OTA was cut, there were calls for lobbyists to fill the gap. Sunlight and others called for restoring funding to OTA or some other nonpartisan source of expertise. We are glad to see someone exposing how Congress has weakened its ability to understand complex policy decisions, and we hope it will spark more discussion of what can be done to stop the cutting of knowledge.Continue reading
By Daniel Schuman and Alisha Green It comes as little surprise to hill watchers that House staff are underpaid compared to their Senate equivalents, let alone executive branch and private sector staff, but we decided to dig a bit deeper. Just in time for the holidays (and those non-existent public sector bonuses) here's a comparison of key positions in the House, Senate, and executive branch. We admit that the data is a bit old, like the Ghost of the War on Christmas Past, but it's the best we can do with what’s available. The shaded areas in the bars for the executive branch staff show a range of potential pay.Continue reading
One of the emerging post-campaign narratives is that all the outside money (more than $1.3 billion) that poured into the 2012 election didn’t buy much in the way of victories. And as we dig through the results in detail (our extensive data visualizations and analysis are below), the story holds up: we can find no statistically observable relationship between the outside spending and the likelihood of victory. Looking closely at the data helps to clarify and explore this emerging narrative in numerous ways. It also helps us to see some other smaller effects of money. It appears that candidate spending may have mattered a bit more than outside spending, especially for Democrats. It also appears that outside spending may have contributed slightly to the vote share, though not to the probability of victory. This post is based on House results, both because looking at the House gives us a larger sample size, and because there’s more of a likelihood that money could make a difference in House races, given the smaller size of House seats (compared to the Senate), the recent redistricting and the fact that we’ve had three House elections in a row with high turnover. (We’ll come back to the Senate soon, we promise) First an overview. As of September 6, two months before the election, the Cook Political Report listed 90 House seats as either likely for one party, lean for one party, or toss-ups. These were the seats where money could make a difference if it were to make one. (Before we proceed, a few caveats: 1. The candidate spending totals are through October 17; and 2. For purposes of the analysis we include outcomes still pending final approval.) Outside spending on these 90 seats was just over a quarter of a billion: $250,656,656, and candidate spending was just short of $300 million: $297,947,7717. In the 25 toss-up races, candidates spent $100,164,189; outside groups spent $140,043,821.Continue reading
Outside spending can have its biggest impact in smaller races. And in a number of contests for congressional seats where there was a significant money advantage for one side, independent expenditures seemed to help push the needle.
Here are four members of the 113th Congress whose chances of winning increased after receiving a significant boost from outside nonprofits and super PACs attacking their opponents or praising them.
At some point in the fall, for each of these winners, the non-partisan Cook Political Report shifted its ratings ...
Outside money is flooding into U.S. House races, primarily from party committees, but also significantly from dark money groups and super PACs. And though Democrats need to win 25 seats to take back the House (which most forecasters deem unlikely), nobody is giving up on anything, judging from the recent cash infusions. We are now at $218.8 million in House outside spending, with almost one-third of that money coming in the last 10 days, and more than half of it coming since October 1. Republicans lead in outside money $119.6 million to $96.7 million, including a two-to-one lead in dark money. Democratic super PACs, meanwhile, have outspent Republican super PACs. What this money all adds up to, we are still waiting to see. For now, the best we can do is to give our best take on the current state of play.Continue reading