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Tag Archive: electronic disclosure

The Rise of Recovery.gov and the Virtuous Cycle of Transparency Innovation

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In the short 30 days since the President signed the Recovery Act (aka Stimulus Bill) into law and Recovery.gov launched:

  • 26 of 28 federal agencies currently handling stimulus dollars have launched websites at identical "/recovery" URLs (example: http://hhs.gov/recovery)
  • 83 identically formatted .xls weekly reports were filed by agencies and are downloadable by reporting agency (generally 3 per agency)
  • 42 states have launched their own recovery-related web sites with several adopting the "/recovery" meme (for example: http://www.maine.gov/recovery)
  • 3,900 hits-per-second loads have been reported for Recovery.gov
These early stats suggest our federal government is headed for the Web 2.0 big leagues in tracking stimulus dollars. Even better, they suggest everyone else is fielding franchise teams and swinging for the fences. No doubt we are going to see a number of strike outs as different federal, state, and local authorities learn to communicate and play together using web-based protocols and practices. But we are also going to see some exciting home runs and grand slams, too.

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USASpending.gov 2.0

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In October 2006, Sunlight grantee OMB Watch set up FedSpending.org, a free, searchable database of federal government spending. Subsequent updates have allowed public access to approximately $16.8 trillion in federal government spending, with complete annual data from FY 2000 through FY 2006 and partial data available for FY 2007. The site was so successful that the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006 (FFATA) set up USASpending.gov within the Office of Management and Budget, which Congresspedia dubbed "the ‘Google' of federal spending" by bringing tremendous transparency to how and where government spends tax dollars. As the site says, it's searchable and accessible by the public for free, and includes for each federal award:

1. The name of the entity receiving the award;
2. The amount of the award;
3. Information on the award including transaction type, funding agency, etc;
4. The location of the entity receiving the award; and
5. A unique identifier of the entity receiving the award.

U.S. Sens. Tom Coburn and Barack Obama, the original sponsors of the FFATA in 2006, recognize there is more to be done. Moments ago, Coburn and Obama introduced the Strengthening Transparency and Accountability in Federal Spending Act of 2008 (S. 3077), which would require the federal government to go beyond summary data on contracts it currently posts.

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Grrrrrr

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From the Center for Responsive Politics:

In the contests for Congress, 1st Quarter fundraising totals for some congressional candidates -- many of them incumbent senators -- still haven't come out electronically from the FEC. (Senators insist on filing their reports on paper even though everyone else files electronically, so this usually explains the delay in getting electronic information -- it has to be keyed in at your expense, taxpayer.)

OpenSecrets.org will update their congressional profiles as the data becomes available. Expect deeper analysis next month.

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Legal Defense Funds

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Earlier this week, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal by Rep. Jim McDermott of a ruling that he acted improperly by passing on to reporters a recording of a 1996 telephone call where Republican leaders talked strategy in regard to the ethics case pending against former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.). This week's decision also leaves standing a previous court ruling saying that McDermott would have to pay $60,000 in damages and $800,000 in legal bills to now House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), who had sued the Washington Democrat in 1998.

The question is, how is McDermott going to pay? CQ looked into whether he can use a legal-defense fund to help pay Boehner and it seems possible. It turns out that McDermott is one of six House members who maintain active legal defense funds, reporting contributions this year. CQ says that the rise in these separate accounts funds is a result of an increase in Justice Department and Federal Election Commission investigations.

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Call for Ensign to Stop Obstructing Electronic Filing Bill

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Going on eight months now the Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act, requiring senators to file their campaign finance reports electronically, has been held up by proceedural maneuvers from the Republican side. After a series of secret holds placed on the bill were thwarted once secret holds were banned (Senators with secret holds must reveal their identity after 72 hours) Sen. John Ensign blocked the bill by offering a poison pill amendment that lacked relevance to the bill. Ensign's amendment, revealed on this blog to have originated from the offices of Mitch McConnell, requires outside organizations filing ethics complaints to reveal their donor list. For months now, this irrelevant, poison pill amendment has blocked a simple change in how Senators file their campaign finance reports that would help make the data more readily accessible to the voting public. Now a coalition of groups, including a number of conservative groups, has formed to ask Ensign to drop his amendment and allow the electronic filing bill to pass. The groups include:

Alliance for Justice
Americans for the Preservation of Liberty
The American Conservative Union
James Bopp Jr., General Counsel James Madison Center for Free Speech
Center for Lobbying in the Public Interest
The Free Speech Coalition
Gun Owners of America,
National Center for Public Policy Research
OMB Watch

The full letter is after the jump.

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Upping the Ante on McConnell as Senate Republicans Try Trickery

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Who knew a little bill requiring senators to file their campaign finance reports electronically could cause such a problem on Capitol Hill? Today, Senate Republicans under the stewardship of Minority Leader Mitch McConnell tried their hand at a parliamentary trick to add poison pill amendments to S. 223. When Majority Leader Harry Reid tried to move S. 1, the Senate' lobbying reform package, to conference committee Sen. Bob Bennett attempted to add S. 223 while reserving the right to add another amendment. Bennett likely wanted to slip in the same amendment that he tried to add to S.223 when it was in committee. That amendment would allow party committees, like the RNC or the DSCC, to coordinate campaign activities with candidate committees. Bennett's amendment is widely opposed by the majority Democrats and would not only make S. 223's passage impossible in conference or in the House of Representatives, but would endanger the entire lobbying and ethics reform package. Reid scuttled this parliamentary trickery by objecting to Bennett's proposition. The Senate went into convulsions and recessed without advancing S. 1 to conference committee. (There are some conflicting accounts of exactly how this proceeded.))

Since the Senate minority is upping the ante with procedural tricks, the Sunlight Foundation has decided to up the ante on Mitch McConnell. Today, Sunlight announced the extension of the deadline for our campaign to get Mitch McConnell on the record responding to questions about the continued blocking of S. 223. Not only is the deadline extended but the prize money is doubled. You will now receive $1,000 if you are the first to submit a video of McConnell responding to questions about the bill. Check out What's McConnell Hiding? for more details.

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What’s McConnell Hiding?

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  Today, the Sunlight Foundation launched a new campaign to reveal which senator is blocking passage of the Senate Campaign Disparity Act (S. 223). If you’ve been following this story here you know that twice this bill - which would require senators to file their campaign finance reports electronically - has been blocked by an anonymous Republican senator who is being hidden by Sen. Mitch McConnell. In his home state of Kentucky we are launching a billboard and a Web site to force McConnell to reveal the name of the anonymous senator. The Louisville Courier-Journal and the Politico have already picked up the story. Check out What’s McConnell Hiding? for more details or continue reading below the fold. We have a number of ways for you to get involved.

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Feinstein asks for McConnell’s help on S.223

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On Monday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) asked Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to help her pass S.223, the Senate campaign finance electronic filing bill. McConnell has been abetting a Republican objection to the bill by refusing to reveal information about who in his party does not approve of this no-brainer legislation. While McConnell states that Republican Senators want to offer amendments to the bill he also refuses to identify and describe these amendments. Feinstein is committed to passing this bill and McConnell has said that he supports it. McConnell must meet with Sen. Feinstein to work together to pass this bill without poison pill amendments. Feinstein's letter asks for McConnell to identify to her the amendments that Republican Senators wish to offer. If they have the kind of support that S.223 has than they could be added. If they are controversial, they should go through the regular committee process. This is very simple and fair. Read the letter:

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Make Congress File Personal Financial Forms Electronically

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The Sunlight Foundation and nearly a dozen other groups today sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to urge her to add to the upcoming lobbying reform legislation a provision that would require members to electronically file their personal financial disclosure forms.  These reports provide detailed information on each members' personal financial assets, and are critical to the public's understanding of whether their representative's private interests might conflict with his or her public duties as a lawmaker. Congress, which has required electronic filing of reports by lobbyists, campaign committees and 527 organizations, has failed to make personal financial disclosure reports available on the Internet-even in PDF format. Instead, the reports and the information contained in them are buried in the basement office of the House Clerk.

The House Ethics Manual states that "...public disclosure of assets, financial interests, and investments has been required as the preferred method of regulating possible conflicts of interest of Members of the House and certain congressional staff. Public disclosure is intended to provide the information necessary to allow Members' constituencies to judge their official conduct in light of possible financial conflicts with private holdings."

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