04/27/2006 02:18 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Creating Citizen Muckrakers

The House so-called "ethics and lobbying reform" package that is moving toward final passage tomorrow is beyond a joke. As the New York Times observed this morning, lobbyists are once again getting away with murder (of our democracy.) A bi-partisan poll released today for the newly created Sunlight Foundation found that voters believe that too little has been done in Washington to reform lobbying and disclosure laws for Congress. The public isn't going to be fooled by what Congress calls reform.

We're ten years into the Internet Age but unfortunately Congress is still living in the last century. How unbelievable is it that lawmakers still file their financial disclosure forms on paper, and that Senate campaign contributions are filed the same way? It's time to use the revolutionary power of the Internet and new information technology to help citizens get engaged in learning more about what Congress and their elected representatives are doing.

Since everyday folks are smart enough to understand what is really going on in Washington -- and what's not -- let's give them tools and access to information so they can become front line citizen muckrakers. Imagine putting flashlights into the hands of thousands of citizens, bloggers and journalists, or indeed even hundred of thousands of them. Now imagine all those flashlights focused on Congress and its members. That kind of collective light is far brighter than anything Congress has ever been exposed to before.

It's time to pool our collective intelligence and offer a new level of scrutiny and exposure to help reduce corruption, ensure greater transparency and accountability by government, and foster public trust in the vital institutions of democracy. One new way to do this is a new wiki -- Congresspedia -- a place on the Internet where everyone can participate in adding to a repository of information on lawmakers. How about participating in online tutorials? Or what about taking on an assignment to help uncover earmarks? All these are new ways to draw on the collective intelligence of citizens.

And that poll I mentioned above? Solid majorities across the political spectrum support reform proposals for increased transparency. And voters -- particularly swing voters -- are more likely to vote for candidates who support these proposals. Congress is forewarned.