Saturday, September 20, 2008

"Insanely Useful Websites for Government Transparancy"

Ever heard of The Sunlight Foundation? It's a great organization, essentially a group to empower watchdogs — uh, that would be us, folks, the voters! The foundation is using the power of the Internet to "shine a light on the interplay of money, lobbying, influence and government in Washington in ways never before possible." They have compiled a great list of helpful sites for those of us wanting the insider's scoop on all things government and politics.

As their website says: “The following sites and resources are 'insanely useful Web sites' for government transparency. They provide a broad range of information available to track government and legislative information, campaign contributions and the role of money in politics. Many of these resources apply the Web 2.0 ethos to sift, share and combine this information in innovative ways — often times by mashing data together from disparate sources to maximize the usability of that information.”

Just a few of the sites that the Sunlight Foundation features — and in some cases, funds — include: — The “online wiki-based citizens’ encyclopedia on Congress” from the Sunlight Foundation and the Center for Media & Democracy.

Contractor Misconduct Database — The government awards contracts to companies with histories of misconduct such as contract fraud and environmental, ethics, and labor violations. The Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is providing such data about the top 50 contractors. — Ever wanted to be an investigative reporter? Want to follow the money? This site is a user-friendly, online investigative tool that lets citizens determine "if earmarks address pressing needs, favor political contributors or are simply pure pork." The unique site guides users step by step through the process that an investigative reporter would follow — associating different kinds of political information with each earmark, and also guides users about how to use online resources on campaign finance, lobbying and federal spending for their research — tying the pork to the source. Users can also comment on and fact-check one each other's work, or send messages — including tips and suggestions — to others. — OMB Watch’s combination of data from the Federal Procurement Data System and the Federal Assistance Award Data System has created a free, searchable database of federal government contracting and spending. The database allows you to search contracts and grants by state, congressional district, contracting agency or type of award, and shows where the money is being spent and — very important — whether it was competitively bid or just given to Haliburton. — This site uses THOMAS data and others to provide Congressional profiles and searchable legislative data. Users can sign up for email alerts to track Members, legislation and votes.

LOUIS — Sunlight Foundation’s Library of Unified Information Sources – “a search engine that combs through seven different sets of government documents. The seven sets of documents are Congressional Reports, the Congressional Record, Congressional Hearings, the Federal Register, Presidential Documents, GAO Reports, and Congressional Bills and Resolutions.” — This site is the premiere source of data on money in national politics. The user is able to search by member of Congress, by donor, or by industry sector. The site also contains four separate databases: lobbying, personal financial disclosures, congressional travel and revolving door.

VoterWatch — “...combines C-SPAN video of Congress with the accompanying text from the Congressional Record to allow viewers to search the video for comments made by a member of Congress.”

WashingtonWatch — This site determines the average cost, or savings, per individual of each bill introduced in Congress by performing calculations on government estimates compared to the US population. The Web site provides users with pro and con arguments for each bill, allows comments on each bill, allows users to vote “yes” or “no” on the bills and provides a “write your rep” function. — " a hub for data about politics. The site brings together census data, voting records, lobbying forms, campaign finance reports, and much more in one easy-to-understand place. And then it gives you the tools to actually do something about it."

To this list, The Information Knot — where I found some of the sites on this list — also added this resource:

Washington Post’s U.S. Congress Votes Database
From the Washington Post; provides House and Senate roll call votes from the 102nd Congress (1991) to the present. Also groups vote results by state, gender or zodiac sign of the Members. A convenient way for constituents to compile a Member’s entire floor voting record for recent Congresses or track missed votes or voting with one’s party.

Use these sites in good health, my friends. And please, use them to speak your minds, or better yet, speak truth to power.

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