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Stalking the Elusive Congressman

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Pity the poor senator or representative trying to stay alive in the political jungle. At every turn there's a danger: a constituent who actually wants something done. Or worse, a campaign donor who might be offended by that something.

And so over time, our representatives have developed protective drab coloration and become expert at keeping a low profile. If they're not on recess, they're using some trick or another (the filibuster!) that muddies the waters sufficiently so that it's hard to tell exactly who's for what.

We've got the classic case this summer. A coalition of environmental and good-government groups have come together to demand an end to fossil fuel subsidies -- Senator Bernie Sanders and Rep. Keith Ellison, both of them bold exceptions to the drab rule -- have introduced a bill that would remove $113 billion in gifts to the coal, oil and gas industries over the next decade. Not surprisingly, it has wide support: polling shows that around 70 percent of Republicans, independents, and Democrats think it's a poor idea to give tax dollars to the richest industry on earth.

But guess who likes the subsidies? And guess who hands out huge chunks of campaign cash? That dilemma explains why, for many years, Congress has hidden the payoffs to industry in arcane corners of the tax code.

Now we're trying to flush them out. We have a new tool -- a remarkable electronic scoreboard at EndFossilFuelSubsidies.org. It's been coded so we can keep track of everyone on Capitol Hill, registering their position -- and so that we can crowdsource the effort. You can call up your congressman and just ask him -- and then record the results. And when she comes home for town hall meetings, you can ask her face to face. Record her answer with your iphone, send it our way, and we'll embed the video in the scoreboard.

We started last week, and so far we've found a few champions of the taxpayer and a few champions of the giveaway -- and a lot of people who are going to get back to us, or whose "energy specialist just quit," or who "haven't had enough information to form an opinion." So we need you to join in this hunt, to try and flush them out. You don't need a license, just a phone: make a few calls to Capitol Hill today -- the numbers are all at the scoreboard.

If we manage to get these guys out in the open, and they're still dodging the question, we're going to embarrass the heck out of them -- but that's step two. Step one is getting them to break cover. So make some noise.

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