Thanks for the opportunity to talk with you today. I’m Nancy Watzman, a consultant to the three-year-old Sunlight Foundation, an organization designed to use the power of the Internet to catalyze greater government openness and transparency.
Sunlight takes its inspiration from Justice Brandeis’ adage: Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants. In the age of Internet this means something very different than what it has meant in the past.
It means improving access to government information – particularly what we refer to as “influence data” -- by digitizing it and making it available on the Internet. Sunlight in the Internet era means making government accountable by creating new tools and websites to enable all of us to analyze information and to pool our collective intelligence in enriching it.
As my colleague Andrew Rasiej of Personal Democracy Forum has said, technology is not JUST a slice of the pie . . . it’s actually the pan. I’d like to talk a little today about the Sunlight Foundation’s mission and work, but before I launch into that I want to introduce my two co-panelists, floating here with me in virtual space.
Since my last name begins with a “W,” and I still feel the pain of lineups from my childhood, I’ll go backwards, alphabetically speaking. First, we have Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, who has some two decades of experience under her belt following the money. The Center for Responsive Politics is the nation's premier research group tracking money in U.S. politics and its effect on elections and public policy.
Second, but only because her last name begins with an “A,” is Ryan Alexander, the president of Taxpayers for Common Sense. Taxpayers is a non-partisan budget watchdog serving as an independent voice for American taxpayers. Over the past 20 years, Ryan has served as a nonprofit advocate, manager, funder, and consultant.
Both Sheila’s and Ryan’s organizations are grantees of the Sunlight Foundation precisely because they are experts in how to make those technology pans. They’ll be talking more about that in a moment.
At the Sunlight Foundation, we firmly believe that technology can be a disruptive force to the “golden rule” (he who has the gold rules). A few years ago, bloggers known as the &quot;Porkbusters&quot; helped expose Alaska's &quot;bridge to nowhere.&quot; This project to connect the tiny town of Ketchikan (population 8,900) to the even tinier Island of Gravina (population 50) cost some $320 million and was funded through three separate earmarks in a highway bill. Exposure created a huge furor and essentially stopped that earmark.
We also have a president who has made transparency through technology a touchstone of his message. For example, earlier this year he famously made transparency and accountability a core part of his announcement of his stimulus plan. A new website, Recovery.gov, is supposed to supply us taxpayers all the information about where and how our money is being spent. The simple idea is that the programs will work better the more we know about them.
We also have a president who has made transparency through technology a touchstone of his message. For example, earlier this year he famously made transparency and accountability a core part of his announcement of his stimulus plan. A new website, Recovery.gov, is supposed to supply us taxpayers all the information about where and how our money is being spent. The simple idea is that the programs will work better the more we know about them. One of his first acts of office was issuing a government directive declaring that government would be more open than ever before.
There are plans under way for a new government website, data.gov, which will provide all the raw data that the government creates in and easy one-stop shopping location.
At Sunlight, part of our work is to hold Obama to his promises. It’s great that he created Recovery.gov—but what are the ways that that site is lacking? Is the administration acting with due speed on its initiatives for open government?
We also keep our eyes on Congress. We have a campaign, Pass S.482, a bill that would require the Senate to enter the age of the Internet and file their campaign finance reports electronically. We are also advocating for stronger lobbying disclosure laws and that Congress make all legislation available to the public for at least 72 hours before considering it.
And we digitize, digitize, digitize. Through our grantees, like the Center and Taxpayers, and our own projects, we believe in wrassling influence data into formats that reporters, bloggers, and activists can use them in their work.
For example, at our Party Time website—www.politicalpartytime.org—you can find thousands of invitations to congressional fundraisers that we’ve collected from anonymous lobbyist sources.
You can do searches to see where lawmakers are partying, with whom, and where. And you can get the raw data underlying the site to play with yourself.
We’re in the midst of creating a massive Data Commons, gathering influence data from CRP and state campaign finance data, among other sources, so we can connect more and more dots.
We like to think of a future where all these data are connected with each other. Imagine, for example, a time when I could not just easily pull up Exxon’s filings from the SEC but also, right there along with it, detailed information about what that company is lobbying for on Capitol Hill and what campaign contributions it is giving and to whom. That would give me a much clearer picture about what the company is up to and why—and it might also help me figure out why a particular lawmaker might be taking a specific stance on an issue.
Or what if I could see how much pollution a power plant emits right next to its financials and the names of the lobbyists it employs?
What if I could find out, in a flash, not just how much subsidy money Citicorp has gotten in the last year—but also the web of connections the company may have with particular lawmakers and administration figures? Combining basic information in new ways with what we call “influence data” could help increase accountability of government officials.
We’re getting closer every day to the point where we’ll be able to do these sorts of things—and all sorts of things that we can’t even imagine yet. But it is going to take all of us, working together to make that happen. Please get on our lists to keep informed about developments in the transparency movement. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook—we’d love to have you as part of our community. And now back to Sheila and Ryan.
The donor search tool allows you to search all individual contributions going back to 1989 and soon we will be incorporating CRP’s value-added, standardized employer information so that you can pull up all of the detail for a company or group, no matter how bad the individual employee’s disclosure is.
The increasing focus on transparency has turbo-charged the conversation on how we define acceptable or “meaningful” access to government information. For instance, it’s ludicrous – inexcusable – in this day and age that the Senate has gotten away with exempting themselves from filing electronically. But it’s only a matter of time before this one falls, because the drumbeat has grown steadily louder as more people add their voices to this debate.
Talking points: Short schtick about TCS. Our mission is to work towards a responsible federal government that lives within its means. We believe in government, but we believe that as taxpayers we have a right and a duty to demand excellence from government, and that Congress and the President have a fiduciary duty to taxpayers. And we are scrupulously non-partisan and independent, because no one wants their money wasted. We’re best known for the Bridge to Nowhere and our role in the investigation of Duke Cunningham. For the past five years we have databased every earmark in every appropriations bill. (Something to in-offensively distinguish us from CAGW).
Talking points: It is a fundamentally unaccountable system. Earmarks have become the currency of corruption and of re-election. The relationship between campaign contributions, lobbying, and earmarks provides opportunities for bribery. There are several members of Congress under criminal investigation for the use of earmarks. Also note that earmarks are primarily in the appropriations bills, but they also appear in some authorization bills and the transportation bill. We’ve databased the earmarks in the defense authorization bill. There were more than 35,000 earmark request in the House of Representatives for FY 2008, almost 13,000 of which ended up in the final bills. If you think of the time it takes to vet, review, write, and consider these requests, it becomes clear what a huge distraction they are to the more important questions Congress should be grappling with.
Have details about Coconut Road chronology More specifics about the examples Think I may change this slide to just list categories, and then talk through the examples. What other categories should I use?
Transparency Gov 2.0
Transparency and Government 2.0 Women Who Tech TeleSummit May 12, 2009 Need Help? Press *7 to un-mute phone lines or call ReadyTalk Support at 1-800-843-9166 Nancy Watzman Consultant, Sunlight Foundation Sheila Krumholz Executive Director, Center for Responsive Politics Ryan Alexander President, Taxpayers for Common Sense www.WomenWhoTech.com
You say you want a revolution? <ul><li>Technology innovation is moving so fast there is no longer just evolutionary change. </li></ul><ul><li>It’s creating revolutionary change in the way our institutions operate, survive and more importantly what our expectations from them are and will be. </li></ul>
<ul><li>Who are the lobbyists? </li></ul><ul><li>How much in campaign contributions? </li></ul><ul><li>What did plant get from Capitol Hill? </li></ul><ul><li>How much did company profit? </li></ul>
<ul><li>Sign up to receive alerts at: www. sunlightfoundation .com </li></ul><ul><li>Follow us on twitter: @sunfoundation ; @sunlightnetwork </li></ul><ul><li>Become our fan on Facebook! </li></ul>
Money’s Role in U.S. Politics: Shining light on power and influence Sheila Krumholz Executive Director, Center for Responsive Politics
OpenSecrets. org <ul><li>The 2008 election cost $5.2 billion (including funds raised for the presidential and congressional races) </li></ul><ul><ul><li>More than the GDP of Belize ($1.2 billion) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Less than what Americans spent on Valentine’s Day in 2008 ($17 billion) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>The presidential race alone cost $2.24 billion </li></ul>
OpenSecrets. org Our mission is to provide greater transparency in government, specifically about the role of money and elite influence on policy and elections, to provide the public the help they need to hold their elected officials accountable. … because “ People govern themselves based on the quality of information they get. If they’re left out in the dark and don’t know who’s pulling the strings, they can’t participate in a democracy fully .” – Celia Wexler
Pass S.482! <ul><li>Last year alone electronic filing would have saved 340,000 sheets of paper , or six tons of trees. </li></ul><ul><li>By e-filing, Senators would save taxpayers $250,000 annually . </li></ul>
<ul><li>Sign up to receive our newsletter by e-mail at: www.OpenSecrets.org </li></ul><ul><li>Follow us on twitter: @opensecretsDC </li></ul><ul><li>Become our fan on Facebook! </li></ul><ul><li>Sheila Krumholz, Executive Director </li></ul><ul><li>202.354.0104 / email@example.com </li></ul>
Earmarks, Bailouts, and Spending Bringing transparency to the public Ryan Alexander President Taxpayers for Common Sense ryan @taxpayer.net www.taxpayer.net www.taxpayer.net
TCS: Who we are and what we do <ul><li>Our mission is to achieve a government that spends taxpayer dollars responsibly and operates within its means. </li></ul><ul><li>We work with individuals, policymakers, and the media to increase transparency, expose and eliminate wasteful and corrupt subsidies, earmarks, and corporate welfare, and hold decision makers accountable. </li></ul>www.taxpayer.net
What is Government Waste? <ul><li>TCS’s 10 common sense principles on government waste: 1. If it doesn't work, don't fund it. 2. Eliminate redundant expenditures. 3. Stop helping those who don't need help. 4. Get a fair price for taxpayer assets or government services. 5. Don't encourage irresponsibility. 6. Don't burden future generations with unfair or hidden debts. 7. Level the playing field and use the power of the market. 8. Eliminate unnecessary federal involvement. 9. Everyone should pay their fair share. 10. Fund projects based on their merits and only after open review. </li></ul>www.taxpayer.net
What are the problems with earmarks? <ul><li>Decisions made on political muscle, not project merit. </li></ul><ul><li>Present unique opportunities for corruption. </li></ul><ul><li>Divert resources from more important priorities. </li></ul><ul><li>Divert lawmakers and staff time away from central policy debates. </li></ul><ul><li>At the current volume, there is no possibility of adequate review. </li></ul><ul><li>Distribution of resources reflects neither priority, need, or population. </li></ul>www.taxpayer.net
What gets funded through earmarks? <ul><li>Local economic development </li></ul><ul><li>Specific geographic assignment of funds that could be allocated programmatically. </li></ul><ul><li>Contracting decisions </li></ul><ul><li>Infrastructure </li></ul><ul><li>Research and Development </li></ul>www.taxpayer.net
Bridge to Nowhere <ul><li>Gravina Island Bridge started as a $200M project proposed by Representative Don Young and Senator Ted Stevens. </li></ul>www.taxpayer.net
TCS Earmark Analysis <ul><li>Complete excel database of all earmarks available at www.taxpayer.net </li></ul><ul><li>Includes House request, Senate request, sponsors, final amount, description, place of performance </li></ul><ul><li>Defense bill also includes beneficiaries and links to request letters. </li></ul>www.taxpayer.net
What changes have we seen? <ul><li>Greater earmark disclosure, but still needs improvement. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>2007 was the first year of any disclosure </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>This year we are seeing requests as well as final earmarks, but not centralized. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Bailout had weaker oversight and transparency than we would have liked to see. </li></ul><ul><li>Stimulus has a number of mechanisms in place that reflect the criticisms of the transparency community </li></ul>www.taxpayer.net