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Delegation leads in openness
By IR staff - 12/13/07Naively, no doubt, we were hoping that the Montana congressional delegation’s practice of posting their daily schedules on the Internet might catch on in Washington.
After all, it’s an easy way for members of Congress to show their commitment to transparency in government and maybe even help repair that institution’s tattered image.
No such luck. A national watchdog organization called the Sunlight Foundation recently applauded U.S. Sen. Jon Tester and Sen. Max Baucus and U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg for being among only eight of the 535 members of Congress to post their schedules.
A foundation spokeswoman said congressional members often say they don’t want to reveal their schedules for reasons of security. That’s a particularly lame excuse. All they need to do is post their scheduled a day late, as the Montana delegation does. Yesterday’s schedule isn’t of much help to any bad guys lurking out there. The real reason so few are willing to make their schedules public is that they probably fear political operatives will be poring over their itineraries, searching for any ammo they can find for future attacks. Continue reading
"We can never understand [a House member’s] Washington activity without also understating his perception of his various constituencies and the home style he uses to cultivate their support " states Richard Fenno in Home Style: House Members in Their Districts. Fenno understands that the work of members of Congress is more than committee meetings and votes but is also people they meet with from the district. The work in the district builds trust constituents need to send them to Washington and to accept the decisions they make there. Fenno’s makes the point that the work of lawmakers done in the district is not an exhibition but the yang to Washington’s Ying.
This trust that lawmakers create in the district extends to who they meet with in Washington. The Punch Clock motto has always been “Members of Congress work for us, and we should know what they do every day.” Fenno made this point a different way, “Trust is, however, a fragile relationship. It is not an overnight or one-time thing. It is hard to win; and it must be constantly renewed and rewon. "
In this spirit, Sunlight has decided to help out by creating a trust-building tool. This tool, the Punch Clock Map, is a Google map mashup with corresponding RSS feeds that lets citizens see for themselves just how elected officials spend their time and how they serve their district’s needs.
With the advent of Rep. Rehberg (MT) posting his schedule to his official congressional Web site, Montana bloggers and newspapers have asked if Sen. Baucus would join his fellow lawmakers and post his schedule, as well. Lawmakers who agree to share their schedule show that they’re responsive, open, transparent and above all accountable to their constituents. When citizens can find out who has the ears of their lawmakers they can fairly determine if those lawmakers are making fair decisions. The information is vital to a strong democracy because it allows, for the first time, a voter to engage in the daily life of their elected official. The Montana Standard agrees -- on Sunday they printed an editorial making the point thatWith just three people representing the fourth largest state in the country, our congressional delegation already faces a great challenge in trying to stay in touch with Montanans, and this one relatively easy way to keep people in the loop.Given the distance between Washington DC and Montana it could be frustrating to a Montanan to feel connected to their representative. But, with a schedule, people know that members of Congress are, in fact, meeting with people in the district and keeping those needs in mind daily. Bloggers are also asking, Don Pogreba’s blog Intelligent DiscontentIt's time for Senator Max Baucus to do the right thing. Following the lead of Senator Tester and Representative Rehberg, it's time for Max to start telling Montana voters how he spends his days in Washington.and Jay Steven’s Left in the West "So you know what this means! Max Baucus is the only Montana federal-level representative hiding his business behind a cloud."
The value of a daily available schedule is not lost and constituents actually see the value and want to see all their Representatives do the right thing. We have seen the power that Montana Bloggers have in demanding accountability from their elected officials, and I am confident that Sen. Baucus will do the right thing by his constituents. There’s hope he’s already considering it. Today, the Billings Gazette published an editorial citing, Sen. Baucus’ spokesperson, Barrett Kaiser stating “…said last week that the senator is considering posting his schedule.”Continue reading
Rep. Dennis Rehberg is the 7th Member of Congress (and the second from Montana) to put a daily schedule online. Montana freshman, Sen. Jon Tester, made a campaign promise to post his schedule and he has been posting it since the beginning of his term. The existence of Tester’s schedule prompted the Helena Independent Record to ask Rep. Rehberg and Sen. Baucus if they were thinking of posting one also. Rehberg’s spokesman said his schedule was available to anyone who called his office and asked but when bloggers decided to take him up on that offer they found out that his schedule was available only if you were in Washington (more responses here). Later, an article in the Missoula Independent quoted Rep. Rehberg’s chief of staff saying that when the website was redesigned Mr. Rehberg’s schedule will be posted daily.Continue reading
As an energetic promoter of lawmakers posting their daily schedules on line, we've talked about the terrific efforts made by Sen. John Tester and Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand, the first two lawmakers to really give us some sense of who they meet with and what they do everyday. But today we realized that the schedules were not actually being archived on their sites, meaning that if you wanted to see how many citizen groups Rep. Gillibrand has met with over the long term, or how much time Sen. Tester spends working on legislation with his staff, you couldn't figure it out. No doubt this is an oversight on their part.Continue reading
The New York Times editorial that was very supportive of Sunlight's transparency agenda for Congress led with the mention that Representative-elect Kirsten Gillibrand has already decided to post details of her work calendar on the Internet at the end of each day. This afternoon I had a conversation with Matt McKenna, who is working on the transition team of Senator-elect Jon Tester, who told me that Tester has promised to do the same. In addition, Tester will institute a total gift ban for himself and his staffers, will prohibit any staff that leaves to work as a lobbyist from returning to work for him, and will ask a judge to conduct an ethics audit of his office every year. The office is considering other proposals too.Continue reading