This week has been filled with news about the influence industry. From high profile staffers moving through the revolving door, to Supreme Court consideration of another attempt to deregulate campaign finance, to outrage over the new Obama affiliated group, political influence is pervasive. Luckily, there are always groups thinking about ways to shed light on this influence. At a recent Advisory Committee on Transparency event three groups presented ideas to shed light on lobbyists and nonprofit groups that attempt to influence the political process.Continue reading
Regardless of who wins the presidential election, the next administration will have enormous power to say how open our government will be. We have organized our priorities for the next administration below, to share where we think our work on executive branch issues will be focused, in advance of the election results. From money in politics to open data, spending, and freedom of information, we'll be working to open up the Executive Branch. We'd love to hear any suggestions you might have for Sunlight's Executive Branch work, please leave additional ideas in the comments below. (We'll also be sharing other recommendations soon, including a legislative agenda for the 113th Congress, and a suite of reform proposals for the House and Senate rules packages.) Sunlight Reform Agenda for the Next Administration:Continue reading
For voters disgusted by nasty campaign ads and frustrated that they don’t know who is paying for them, there is plenty of blame to go around. The Supreme Court for allowing the dark money takeover of our elections, Congress for failing to enact the DISCLOSE Act, the Federal Election Commission for its failure to enforce laws already on the books. Add to that list the IRS, for its apparent willingness to look the other way while millions of dollars are laundered through fake nonprofit organizations whose only purpose is to influence elections.Continue reading
Fred Eshelman, CEO of North Carolina-based Pharmaceutical Product Development, has given $3.38 million to RightChange.com, an organization taking part in the onslaught of outside spending this election cycle, according to documents filed with the IRS. Almost all of the money going to RightChange comes from Eshelman; the organization is a vehicle for him to air his political views, which happen to align with the GOP's.
The documents also show that, in addition to Eshelman's support, RightChange.com received $105,000 from a group sharing its name, RightChange II. The ultimate origins of that money was not ...Continue reading
A flowery title for a blog post, I'll admit, but I hope that at least the Le Guin fans out there will forgive me. The problem of knowing something's true name is in the news, most particularly in this story from Wired's Spencer Ackerman:
Through a "joint venture," the notorious private security firm Blackwater has won a piece of a five-year State Department contract worth up to $10 billion, Danger Room has learned.
Apparently, there is no misdeed so big that it can keep guns-for-hire from working for the government. And this is despite a campaign pledge from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to ban the company from federal contracts.
Eight private security firms have won State's giant Worldwide Protective Services contract, the big Foggy Bottom partnership to keep embassies and their inhabitants safe. Two of those firms are longtime State contract holders DynCorp and Triple Canopy. The others are newcomers to the big security contract: EOD Technology, SOC, Aegis Defense Services, Global Strategies Group, Torres International Services and International Development Solutions LLC.
Don't see any of Blackwater's myriad business names on there? That's apparently by design. Blackwater and the State Department tried their best to obscure their renewed relationship. As Danger Room reported on Wednesday, Blackwater did not appear on the vendors' list for Worldwide Protective Services. And the State Department confirms that the company, renamed Xe Services, didn't actually submit its own independent bid. Instead, they used a blandly-named cut out, "International Development Solutions," to retain a toehold into State's lucrative security business. No one who looks at the official announcement of the contract award would have any idea that firm is connected to Blackwater.
This is a troubling story. But for those of us who work with government data, it's an all-too-familiar one. Navigating the link between an entity's name and its identity is very, very difficult. Sunlight Reporting Group wrote about a similar problem back in January: a blacklist of contractors called the Excluded Party List System has been failing to do its job, partly because of difficulties in positively identifying the companies entered into it. People and even companies can have similar names, or the names entered into the system can contain typos. It's not uncommon to wind up with a fuzzy sort of match, and then to have to use whatever additional data is on hand -- an address, or a date, whatever -- to add confidence to the guess.Continue reading
Good news and Bad news from Data.gov
Looks like Data.gov has added a whole bunch of new feeds, they're up from 47 to 87 in two weeks, not a bad start. Most of the new feeds come from the IRS, they look to be interesting data: 990 forms from 501(c)(3-9) organizations.
That's the good news.
The bad news? It's pretty bad so hold on to your britches.Continue reading
On Tuesday just as the campaigns moved into the general election phase, the Campaign Finance Institute (CFI) released an analysis of the fundraising being conducted by the Democrats and Republicans for their presidential conventions in Denver and Minneapolis-St. Paul. CFI estimates that corporate funds will pay for 80 percent of the $112 million combined price tag of the two conventions. How is that possible?! CFI found that both parties are using local “host committees” to raise unlimited corporate contributions to pay for the conventions and the FEC and IRS decided that it’s OK for “host committees” to spearhead the fundraising, This created a huge loophole allowing corporate money to flow to the parties.Continue reading