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Tag Archive: Spending

Sunlight Foundation Files its First Freedom of Information Act Lawsuit

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Today the Sunlight Foundation filed its very first Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit. In May 2013, we sent a FOIA request to the General Services Administration (GSA) requesting a copy of all contract notices that had been posted on Fedbizopps.gov since 2000. These notices would allow members of the press, researchers, and our developers to analyze government spending patterns, to look for inaccuracies, corruption, and waste.

Despite our repeated inquiries and reminders, Sunlight never heard back from the GSA about our FOIA request in the more than five months since then. So we decided to take action.

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Shining a Light on Black Budgets

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CIALast week, the Washington Post reported that new documents leaked by Edward Snowden reveal the budgets of the sixteen United States intelligence agencies. The budgets, which had never previously been revealed to the American public, totaled $52.6 billion, including $14.7 billion for the Central Intelligence Agency, $10.8 billion the National Security Agency, and $10.3 billion for the National Reconnaissance Office. This revelation shines a badly needed light on the way that our intelligence agencies spend money. We’ve written about the importance of spending transparency many times before. As we’ve argued, “access to government spending information is a fundamental pillar of an accountable government. It provides a basis for citizen participation, promotes government integrity, and encourages greater efficiency.”

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The future of civic software reuse?

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On Thursday June 6th at the Personal Democracy Forum (an annual conference exploring technology’s influence on politics and government), New York City’s Comptroller John Liu announced that the code behind Checkbook NYC 2.0, the city's transparency spending web portal, had been open-sourced and made available for forking on Checkbook NYC 2.0's github page. This is significant because (1) Checkbook 2.0 is enormous: it makes over $70 billion dollars in New York City spending available online in a timely, structured, and human-readable form, demonstrating that best practices in data disclosure can be followed even at scale; (2) it marks a shift to proactive civic application-sharing, by the way of the municipality’s desire to share the resources they’ve developed with other local (and even state) governments and NYC’s partnership with common municipal software vendors in this endeavor; and (3) it raises questions about what’s next for government transparency tools, civic software partnerships, and reuse.

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NRA’s allegiances reach deep into Congress

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Just over half (51 percent) of the members of the new Congress that convenes next month have received funding from the National Rifle Association’s political action committee at some point in their political careers, an analysis by the Sunlight Foundation finds. And 47 percent received money from the NRA in the most recent race in which they ran. The numbers give insight into the depth and breadth of support that the nation’s most powerful gun lobby commands. They also highlight the primary obstacle to quick action on gun control in response to last week’s massacre in Newton, Conn. – deep and long-lasting allegiances to the National Rifle Association.

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Explaining the power of the National Rifle Association, in one graph

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In the wake of the tragic shooting in Newtown, one of the emerging debates is whether there will even be a debate. Past mass shootings have come and gone without any action. Many argue that the reason for this inaction is simple: politicians have been afraid to take on the National Rifle Association, the large and influential pro-gun lobby that spent at least $18.6 million this past election cycle - $11.1 million through its Political Victory Fund, plus $7.5 million through its affiliated Institute for Legislative Action. Here are the data: The NRA has spent 73 times what the leading pro-gun control advocacy organization, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, has spent on lobbying in the 112th Congress ($4.4 million to $60,000, through the second quarter of 2012), and 4,143 times what the Brady Campaign spent on the 2012 election ($24.28 million to $5,816). (One caveat on the data is that the NRA itself does a very poor job of accurately reporting its spending, and we must rely on its self-reports.)

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Sunlight’s Priorities for the Next Administration

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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:

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