[The following is an encore piece that was originally published on 1 March 2010]
OpenCongress is a free open source endeavor of the Participatory Politics Foundation and the Sunlight Foundation. The latter are nonprofit organizations whose shared mission is focused on web development, specifically, websites for “engagement” with government.
If you are an engaged and civic-minded voter, then OpenCongress has several useful features. It pulls information from THOMAS and GovTrack, predominantly, as well as from other sources such as Technorati and the YouTube Senate and House hubs. The navigation of the site is almost of a social networking vibe in that users can create profiles, add friends, and participate in discussion. There is even a built in Wiki that users can contribute to, as well as a blog, and website widgets tool to track bills and Congressional representatives.
Additionally, there is a bill, voting record and money trail tracker that will help you to keep tabs on your elected federal officials once you create a profile. Adding the money trail component was a nice touch, but if OpenCongress wants to blow its own horn as the premier site to “track” government, then the money trail tracker needs a hell of a lot more improvement. Voters want to see who is pulling the strings after the money is deposited in Congressional bank accounts.
Although the money trail feature is broken down by industry, there is no way to discern when the money was shoveled into the representative’s coffers or how much was contributed by any given company. There is simply the rep’s name and the amount of money he or she received collectively by industry for the pertinent session of Congress. On the OpenSecrets website, following the money trail is vastly more comprehensive because you can see the name of the company and exactly how much they paid to purchase an advocate for their interests.
This is a very prominent feature because as everyone who has been paying attention lately knows, the Supreme Court has just ruled in the Citizen’s United decision that the United States will continue to have the best government that money can buy, only we’re not going to call it bribery, we’re going to call it free speech, instead. Since voting will no longer matter, and, the buying off of a Congressional representative is now codified into law, I think it is imperative that voters be able to see exactly how much each corporation donates to each tool representative. That way at least we’ll know which company to attribute the non-stop ass rape to once their bought-and-paid for whore representative(s) start sponsoring and getting bills passed in the pimp’s corporate person’s favor.
I like the OpenCongress site and plan to use it, but I do have one, minor quibble. The website design assumes that anyone using it has a widescreen monitor. If you don’t happen to have such a monitor, then half of the page is cut off unless you scroll over horizontally. Hello PPF and Sunlight Foundation? After fifteen years of being accustomed to seeing everything on the page without having to do anything except load the url in the browser, I personally find having to scroll over exceptionally inconvenient and annoying. And with double digit national and state unemployment figures, not everyone has the extra scratch to run out and buy a 27-inch widescreen, flat panel computer monitor. It’s a nice thought, but let’s pull our heads out of our asses and be more realistic. Fix the site so that everyone can view it comfortably whether or not they’ve got a widescreen monitor.
OpenSecrets is a nonprofit company whose website makes it easy to follow the money. They’ve been around for a number of years first publishing the influence of money in elections in printed format back in 1983, and then in 1992, launched the website, which included tracking individual donations in addition to corporate.
In many ways, OpenSecrets is a lot more comprehensive than OpenCongress, and, makes the latter look amateurish and cheesy, but used in conjunction with each other, offers the absolute fastest and most convenient way to discover and study Congressional processes, and, the representatives we pay to collect payoffs campaign contributions, vote themselves lavish salaries and titanium plated benefits, lie, cheat, steal, obfuscate, deny, and, otherwise take off more time than any working American has ever had the privilege of experiencing.
You don’t have to be a beltway insider to know which way the wind blows if you use either site to its fullest advantage.
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