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The big-money usurption of American democracy has taken another step forward. By a vote of 51-44, the Senate last night voted along party lines to uphold a filibuster the 2012 DISCLOSE Act, a bill that would require corporations, unions and Super PAC that run political ads to release the names of their donors who give more than $10,000 to support a campaign. Just ten years after President Bush signed into law the “Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act” (McCain-Feingold), putting limits on independent campaign spending and requiring disclosure in ads, simple disclosure of unlimited campaign spending has become a bitter, highly-politicized issue.

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When Congress passed the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill in 2010 they made quite a few dubious claims about what was in it, a couple of the most offensive being that the bill would end too big to fail and that it would bring transparency to the Federal Reserve. We’re still waiting for real action on ending too big to fail, but on real Fed transparency legislation there is some action. Tomorrow, the House Oversight Committee will vote on the Federal Reserve Act. The bill would eliminate the special audit protections that the Fed conducts its monetary policy under and mandate that the Comptroller General conducts a complete Fed audit within one year’s time.

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PPF is proud to stand with our allies the Sunlight FoundationGovTrack.us, and many others in the #opengov & legal informatics community in calling for #opengovdata - specifically, to oppose H.R. 5882 (sponsor: Rep. Ander Crenshaw [R , FL-04]) in its current form as it's planned to be brought to the House floor this week.

We called our long-planned wiki-whip-count effort on OC: #FreeTHOMAS. Now, we have the specific legislative item from the House Subcommittee on Legislative Appropriations: click here to email your reps in opposition to H.R. 5882. Click through for more info & outrage. Totally unacceptable that we still don't have bulk access to public bill data. 

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Congress Refuses to #FreeTHOMAS (updated)

May 17, 2012 - by David Moore

Update, May 30th, 2012, 5pm ET: Ohh hell no. They're blocking you, you reading this now, from accessing #opendata about bills in Congress. This afternoon, Daniel Schuman & Eric Mill with our partners Sunlight Foundation posted this seriously unfortunate, significantly discouraging, sadly expected update: "Appropriators May Undercut Legislative Transparency". 

Background on OC Blog: our campaign is to #FreeTHOMAS now. See our #FreeTHOMAS community wiki whip count page for more info & links. 

Primary point of contact here should be office of Rep. Ander Crenshaw [R, FL-04], on behalf of the intentionally, insistently closed-off Legislative Branch Subcommittee. Give them a ring and let them know that even if you're not a constituent, you demand bulk access to public legislative information - Rep. Crenshaw's office phone is 202-225-2501. Click through for more updates. 

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Free THOMAS!

April 12, 2012 - by Donny Shaw

The Republican House leadership of the 112th Congress has shown more of a commitment to opening up the inner workings of Congress than the leaderships of the recent past. They've liberaized the rules on what technologies members can use, improved live video offerings of floor activity, and created a new website for accessing the texts of some bills. But on the essential issue of making the raw data of Congress available to the public in a reliable, timely and systematic fashion, they have come up far short.

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Dems Re-Intro Super PAC Disclosure Bill

February 21, 2012 - by Donny Shaw

One of the best ways to understand why Congress does what it does is to follow the money. Take a look at which corporations and unions are donating to members of Congress who support their pet bills and you can start to see the networks of influence that partly control what legislation gets considered and how senators and representatives vote. Unfortunately, in our post-Citizens United v. F.E.C. world, following the money is becoming much more difficult. In the 2012 presidential contest, Super PACs, which do not have to publicly disclose where all of their money comes from, have officially overtaken candidate campaigns in election fundraising and spending. Any semblance of separation between Super PACs and campaigns has completely disappeared as well, meaning that the traditional, regulated and disclosed candidate campaign has basically been replaced by the unlimited, secretive Super PAC.

 

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House Getting Creative With the Earmark Moratorium

February 6, 2012 - by Donny Shaw

House Republicans are starting to find ways around the earmark moratorium they voted for last year. The latest example, according to the New York Times, comes in the form of the 2012 Army Corps of Engineers budget. Instead of the $533 million worth of earmarks they included in 2010, the 2012 budget sets aside $507 in 26 slush funds, along withe a set of guidelines for making sure the money goes to Congress' favorite pet projects.

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Following last month's 60 Minutes expose on insider trading by Congress, the House Financial Service Committee Act is holding a mark-up this morning of the STOCK Act, which seeks to end the practice of members of Congress trading stocks based on nonpublic information. Under current law, insider trading laws are hardly ever enforced for members of Congress, and we've known for some time that members' investments consistently outperform the market by a significant amount. Legislation to stop congressional insider trading has been pending in the House and Senate for 6 years, and only now is the bill starting to move forward.

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Talking Supercommittee Transparency

October 31, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Matt Yglesias and I debate the importance of supercommittee transparency on this week's episode of NPR's On the Media. Have a listen below:

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It's Still a Democracy for the Rich and Connected

October 3, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Last week I wrote about how the deficit supercommittee has so far held the majority of its meetings in complete secrecy. Well, as it turns out, that's not exactly true. According to Politico, the committee members have choosen a select group of citizens to give special access to their private meetings to. You and I just happen to not be on the list.

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Supercommittee Meeting Secretly

September 28, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

The "public access and transparency" rules that the deficit supercommittee adopted when they first convened contain a major loophole. If they want to block the media and the public out of their meetings, all they have to do is vote to do so and they can operate in total secrecy. Not surprisingly, invoking that loophole seems to have become their standard operating procedure.

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'Super Congress' Must Be Open and Transparent

August 3, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

The debt ceiling bill that was signed into law yesterday shunts off much of the dirty work of deciding exactly what to programs to cut or whose taxes to increase to a new "joint select committee on deficit reduction," a.k.a the "Super Congress." Whatever the Super Congress comes up with will be brought to the Senate and House for votes under expedited rules that bar amendments and limit filibusters. And the bill contains an enforcement mechanism designed to persuade members to vote for the Super Congress' plan -- if it fails, massive cuts to two sacred cows, Medicare and the Defense Department, would automatically take effect.

The Super Congress appears to be designed so that just a handful of lawmakers, who will probably be selected from very safe districts, have to make decisions about which constituents will bear the burdens of austerity. The vast majority of Congress will only have to take an up-or-down vote, and with the threat of cuts to seniors' health care and precious jobs in teh defense industry, even if they vote for the Super Congress plan they'll be able to tell constituents that they voted for the less bad of two bad options.

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The bill was negotiated entirely behind closed doors, and with no solid proposal until now there'e been no chance for meaningful public review. We've been urged by the President to support "compromise," but we've been locked out of seeing what we were actually being asked to get behind. When you look at which deficit-reduction proposals the public actually supports, it makes sense why this was done so secretively. All of the proposals that are supported by a bipartisan majority of Americans -- e.g. raising taxes on the rich, limiting corporate tax deductions -- were taken off the table long before the real negotiations even began. The "compromise" we were asked to lobby our members of Congress on, but not allowed to see, was between a bunch of stuff that's only popular with the Very Serious People in Washington.

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The Boehner Plan

July 26, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

As usual, when Congress does something that's actually important, they do it the least transparent way possible. This time around it's the Boehner debt plan, which calls for trillions in cuts to social spending and a "super Congress" for reforming taxes and entitlements in exchange for allowing President Obama to raise the debt ceiling through the end of the year. It's a plan that was negotiated 100% behind closed doors, and it's not being introduced through the regular legislative order, thereby hindering the public's ability to read it and contact their elected officials with feedback.

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Please Enjoy This Phony Debt Debate

July 7, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

Senate Republicans have been hammering Democrats and the Obama Administration for negotiating the debt limit and deficit deal behind closed doors and out of the public view. They have a point. Unless there's something you're bringing to the table that you'd rather hide from the public, why not put a camera in the negotiating room and broadcast the talks?

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