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Craig Newmark Headshot

More progress in Washington towards accountability, two major exceptions

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Hey, Katherine Mangu-Ward has a great article discussing what's going on
towards greater gov't accountability via transparency. The deal's that if
we can see what really happens, we can help clean stuff up.

I've worked with a whole bunch of smart people pushing ahead with this,
in the executive branch, some agencies, and the Sunlight Foundation,
the genuine independent leader for such efforts. (Disclaimer: I'm on
their board.) However, there are some roadblocks, some from bureaucratic
inertia, one from politicians who hide their campaign finances.

Specifically, the Senate currently publishes campaign finance data on paper, where they reveal stuff like who's writing checks to Senators. That makes it hard to get, and really hard to search. Accountability requires  campaign finance data disclosure in electronic, searchable, online form,  easily accessed as a database. This is easily done using current Web tech.

There's a Senate bill, S.482, which is the first step in this direction; it requires electronic reporting of campaign contributions. However, at different times, Senators Mitch McConnell (R-KY), John Ensign (R-NV) and Pat Roberts (R-KS) have stalled out the bill, offering no plausible reason why they'd hide campaign finance information.

Check out the current status of this investigation at the Sunlight Foundation. They also have some historical info
including the roles of the other Senators.

For Katherine's take on another movement towards accountability, check out Transparency Chic
where Katherine points out:

In 2009, judicial records in the U.S. are essentially unsearchable.
Digital records.with confidential personal information (theoretically)
redacted by attorneys.must be downloaded in unwieldy, badly labeled
chunks. This is incomprehensible to anyone under 30. But it's a sad fact
of life for those who pay lawyers hundreds of dollars an hour to dig up
what would could be Googled in any other field.

Messrs Schultze, Lee and Yu whipped up a sleek little add-on to the
popular Firefox Internet browser called RECAP (PACER spelled backward).
Legit users of the federal court system download it. Then each time they
drop eight pennies, it deposits a copy of the page in the free Internet
archive. This data joins other poached information, all of which is
formatted, relabeled and made searchable.the kind of customer service
government tends to skimp on. Users can even see what has already been
liberated while within the government system, a stylish and subversive
touch. This week, as RECAP picked up speed, various court offices got
skittish and began sending out emails acknowledging the project's
legality, but "strongly discouraging" its use anyway.

(note: the article refers to me as a "geek" and "tech celeb", so 1) I'm a
"nerd", and 2) if you think I'm a celeb, you need to get out more often.)