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With the self-avowed nonpartisan Tea Party fueling the surge of activism that helped Republicans win the House in the 2010 elections, most pundits assumed the freshmen class would be more independent of party leadership and steer the Republican caucus in a new, more traditionally conservative, direction. However, a month and a half into the 112th Congress, the data suggests that the freshmen class has in fact made the House Republicans a more loyal caucus than it would be without them.

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How Dead is the DISCLOSE Act?

November 9, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

The upcoming lame duck session is the last chance for Congress to require disclosure of unions, corporations and special interests that donate to campaigns, without limit, under the loopholes opened up by the Supreme Court's Citizens United v. FEC decision. If it doesn't get done before the year ends, the Republicans, who have stood in lock-step against disclosure, will gain even more influence in Congress and the 2012 elections will be controlled by secretive special interests to a whole new level.

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Dems Lowering Expectations for the Lame Duck Session

November 8, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Before the elections, congressional Democrats were talking about using the upcoming lame duck session for passing on a renewable energy standard bill, creating a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants that complete high school or serve in the military, setting tariffs for countries that manipulate their currency, repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and much more. But in the wake of their midterm "shellacking," they are quickly scaling back their ambitions. Inside sources who spoke with The Hill are saying not to expect anything beyond a continuing resolution to keep the government running until the end of the year and a debate on the expiring Bush tax cuts.

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For today's updates, surf along with our micropublishing account. Man there is some good content there this morning... a WSJ profile of Rep. Boehner, a Politifact take-down of misinformation that circulates via viral e-mails, pleasantly substantive political analysis of this past session of Congress from Ezra Klein at the WaPo, always more...

The next session of Congress will be the first session with the chambers split between the Democrats and the Republicans since 1985. At this point, I'd say the few potential issues with bipartisan appeal that could get done in the next session include: improving the nation's food safety system, creating a new federal cybersecurity infrastructure, expanding offshore drilling, dealing with the China currency issue, and probably a few other marginal issues. Another big question is going to be if the parties can come together on structural reforms like revising the filibuster rules in the Senate or changing the way federal campaigns are financed. I'm not banking on any progress on these issues, but they really are the wild cards in all this. They're not necessarily partisan issues, they have broad appeal with voters, and they would forever change the way Congress (an institution with a 10% public approval rating) works.

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Go Vote!

November 2, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

UPDATE: Follow OpenCongress on Twitter for non-neurotic election coverage and links to relevant info about the candidates, the victors, and what it all means for what happens in Congress.

Unless you've been living under a rock, you probably know that today's the day to go out and vote for your representatives in Congress, your Governor, and some other important positions. Voting is the easiest way to get involved as citizens and influence public policy, so, if you do nothing else political this year, you should at least go do this. There are tons of super tight races across the country, so your vote will truly make a difference this time around. If you still don't know who to vote for, check out the OpenCongress Voters' Toolbox for some info that might help you make a decision. And if you don't know where to go to vote, use the dirt-simple tool from Google embedded in this post. It'll tell you where to go, how to get there, and even remind you who your candidates are.

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Reid Promises a Lame-Duck Vote on the DREAM Act

October 31, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

What's actually going to happen in the lame duck session of Congress is still pretty much a mystery. But if Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's [D, NV] word is worth anything, we now know for sure at least one bill that will get a vote, and -- no surprise here -- it's one with strong appeal to the Latino voters in Nevada Reid is counting on to help him defeat challenger Sharron Angle on Tuesday.

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The OpenCongress Voters' Toolbox

October 28, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

The midterm elections will be held this Tuesday, Nov. 2nd. With all the partisan half-truths being thrown at voters from all sides these days, at OpenCongress we want to help you find some actual facts about your congressional races. On OpenCongress, you can learn about your current members of Congress, see all the candidates running in your district, and now -- watch the campaign ads running near you on our new AdTracker project. Take a moment to check out the links below, and please share this post to help more voters make their decision with the best factual information out there. We're a non-profit and non-partisan public resource, independent from Congress and any political party.

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Refresher Course: TARP

October 27, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

The vote that best represents the general anger with Congress these days is passage of TARP, the taxpayer-backed bailout program that rescued the banks and car companies from bankruptcy, but did nothing to help the unemployed or foreclosed. Unfortunately, when asked, most people get the basic facts about TARP wrong. I'm not talking about the impacts of the policy or whether or not it was a good idea, just the basic, verifiable facts like who proposed it and who voted for it.

Given that this is still weighing on voters' minds, and that it's been more than two years since the actual vote, here's a quick refresher.

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Put Some Facts In a Friend's Mailbox

October 25, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Know anyone who's still undecided about how to vote in a Senate or House race? Help them make a smart decision by using the Sunlight Foundation's new Influence Explorer Postcard tool to send them (via USPS) some unbiased information about who's funding the candidates' campaigns and who they might owe their allegiance to if elected to Congress. With the unprecedented amount of corporate and special-interest money being spent this election on misleading voters about candidates' positions and records, voters need all the help they can get to find actual facts. Sending a postcard with Influence Explorer is simple. Just select the House or Senate race you want, choose which candidate or candidates you want to display on the postcard, enter a mailing address, an optional personal message, and click send. It costs $2, which you can pay quickly and easily with an Amazon account.

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Repaying the Favor

October 24, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

The real problem with too-big-to-fail is that in a post-Citizens United world there is virtually no limit to the amount of money these enormous companies can spend on making sure their favorite lawmakers get elected. Too big to fail is primarily a political problem. It's a self-perpetuating cycle whereby huge companies are allowed to grow indefinitely (i.e. not fail organically) because they have the financial muscle to buy-off the lawmakers in a position to protect them from regulation and bail them out when they get into trouble.

Not surprisingly, in this election cycle, companies that have taken money from the 2008 TARP bailout are focusing their political giving on candidates who support the bailout, oppose new financial regulations, and are most likely to be in positions of power in the next session of Congress.

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The Pitfalls of Email, The Power of Openness

October 21, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Here's a scary indicator of the state of politics. Of all the substantial legislation has gone through Congress this session that people might be reviewing as the midterms approach -- i.e. health care reform, financial reform, stimulus measures -- the two bills people are viewing most often these days on on OpenCongress are outlandish, non-viable proposals that have no support and no chance of being taken seriously by congressional leaders, ever. These bills are getting twice as much attention as the new health care law, and five times the attention of financial reform. In fact, the closer we get to the midterms, the more attention they get.

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Unemployed Get Organized for a Lame-Duck Fight

October 19, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

The last time Congress tried to extend unemployment insurance it took them 52 days to overcome Republican opposition and pass a bill, causing a six-week lapse in payments for millions of long-term unemployed The time before that it took 28 day and caused a ten-day lapse in payments. Before that, Congress spent 43 days on a bill to add extra weeks, leaving millions of long-term unemployed without a lifeline for more than a month.

When Congress comes back after the midterms, they'll only have a few days to extend federal unemployment insurance to the 8 million or so people who rely on it for paying their bills and feeding their families. This time, the unemployed are getting out ahead with a major campaign to push Congress for an extension well in advance.

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In my article yesterday refuting the claims Republicans are making in their attack ads alleging that conservative Democrats have liberal voting records, several people in the comments asked if I was going to address similar falsehoods in Democratic ads. I responded that of course I would if someone could show me an example of a Democratic attack ad that uses data to bolster lies. The suggestion was that I look at Obama's claim that the Chamber of Commerce is funding ads against Democrats with contributions from foreign entities. So let me address that.

Here's what we know about the Chamber:

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NRCC Falsifies Data to Smear Democratic Candidates

October 13, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

The National Republican Congressional Committee is running an intentionally misleading national campaign designed to make conservative Democrats in Congress look like liberals. They need to be called out.

The NRCC is airing attack ads against dozens of the most conservative Democrats in the House, who tend to be from districts that are considered possible Republican pick-ups in the upcoming midterm elections. Their strategy is to link these conservative Dems to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi [D, CA-8]. But the data they are using does not support their claims. Click through for an explanation of why these NRCC attack ads are unfair & unethical, and to find better, more empirically-justified ways of evaluating a member's ideological position in Congress.

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As campaign season heats up and and political ads get more and more negative, candidates are turning to OpenCongress for a more accurate picture of their voting records. As reported by Politico and the Washington Post today and the New York Times yesterday, Rep. Bill Owens [D, NY-23], who's in a competitive race against Republican challenger Matt Doheny, is using data generated by our head-to-head vote comparison tool in a new ad touting his bipartisan voting record. But what does the data really say?

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