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The graphic at right shows, in aggregate, the explosion of the Federal Reserve's balance sheet during the financial crisis. Today, thanks to the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill (exact provision here), we get to begin learning which companies benefitted from these subsidies, how much they got, when they got it, and what the Fed got/is expected to get in return. The law also asks for "the specific rationale for each such facility or program." Click through for links to dig in yourself or to find the best breaking analysis. 

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McConnell Backs Earmark Ban

November 15, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell [R, KY] has reversed course and will now back Sen. Jim DeMint's [R, SC] earmark moratorium for the 112th Congress. A vote on banning earmarks will be held privately in the GOP conference meeting scheduled for tomorrow, but if doesn't pass there, DeMint and his main ally, Sen. Tom Coburn [R, OK], will force a vote on the moratorium on the Senate floor Wednesday as an amendment to the food safety bill. But is the moratorium really a good idea, or just a political stunt?

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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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Rep. Ron Paul [R, TX-14], the most popular member of Congress amongst OC users, is in line next session to take control of the Domestic and International Monetary Policy, Trade and Technology subcommittee, oversees the Federal Reserve, among other things. Paul is well known for being critical of the Fed, having recently authored a book titled "End the Fed" and sponsoring legislation session after session designed to accomplish just what the book title suggests. He has inspired a powerful, Tea Party-aligned grassroots movement around his ideas of abolishing the Fed and changing the fundamental structure of the U.S. monetary system. With the Fed right now at the center of efforts to get the economy back up and running, having Paul take over Fed oversight right now could really shake things up.

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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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Senate Patches the SEC FOIA Loophole

September 22, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

About a week after the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill was signed into law, government transparency watchdogs found a heinous provision in the bill that seemed to allow the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to deny Freedom of Information (FOIA) requests for information pertaining to an "examination, surveillance, or risk assessment” of banks and other financial comapnies. A group of groups wrote to the bills' sponsors, Sen. Chris Dodd [D, CT] and Rep. Barney Frank [D, MA-4], saying that the provision was "undermining the bill’s overarching goals of more transparency and accountability" and asking that they pass another bill to remove it.

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Reading the Bill

August 26, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Sen. Max Baucus [D, MT] probably did more to craft the health care bill than just about anybody else in Congress. Still, he's catching flack for saying at a townhall meeting last week in Montana that he never actually read the full thing.

Click through for our take -- it might be a small surprise -- or bop over to our micro-publshing account to see what happened over the weekend.

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This probably won't come as a surprise to many of you, but in the 383,013-word, 2,253-page Dodd-Frank financial reform bill, Congress and the President seems to have enacted a provision that, according to a cadre of government transparency groups, "has the potential to severely hinder the public’s ability to access critical information related to the oversight activities of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), thereby undermining the bill’s overarching goals of more transparency and accountability."

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The current U.S. Congress is broken and corrupt. By broken, we mean the un-democratic rules of the U.S. Senate have crashed the system. By corrupt, we don't mean one party or another -- the ethics of the institution itself have crumbled in the wave of money in politics. We're working to fix it, as part of the reform community. And we have a good start, but there's a lot yet to do.

For us, it all comes down to this basic point: transparency, and only total transparency, breeds public trust. Click through to see examples and successful use cases of how people have used OpenCongress over the past year for greater transparency in our government and to get involved with Congress on the issues of health care reform, financial reform, and unemployment benefits. Then, please support our non-profit work with a tax-deductible donation.

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Transparency Bill Would Create Earmark Website

June 25, 2010 - by Hilary Worden

In his 2010 State of the Union address, Obama called on Congress to "to publish all earmark requests on a single Web site before there's a vote, so that the American people can see how their money is being spent." A pair of bi-partisan bills (S.3335 in the Senate and H.R.5258 in the House) would do just that. Titled the Earmark Transparency Act of 2010, the bills would make information about earmarks easily accessible online.

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The DISCLOSE Act and Blogs

May 19, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

In the wake of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision allowing corporations to spend directly on political ads and in unlimited amounts, Democrats in Congress have proposed a legislative solution -- make the corporations paying for ads disclose their identities. It's call the DISCLOSE Act, or the "Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Elections Act," and it's been getting hearings in House and Senate committees in preparation for action on the floor.

An interesting issue was raised at one of the hearings recently by Attorney William McGinley. The bill, he warned, could lead to Federal Election Committee gaining new power to regulate political blogs.

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UPDATE: The Sanders one-time Fed audit amendment has passed, 96-0. The Vitter amendment to open up the Fed to audits in perpetuity was rejected, 37-62.

Last week, an amendment from Sen. Bernie Sanders [I, VT] to remove a section of U.S. code that protects the Federal Reserve from meaningful audits looked set to pass over objections from Banking Committee Chairman Sen. Chris Dodd [D, CT] and the White House. Then, all of a sudden, to alleviate concerns that it would put President Obama in a sticky situation (there was speculation that he would veto the whole financial reform bill over the amendment), Sanders agreed to change his amendment so that it keeps the special protections in U.S. code in tact, and instead allows the government to conduct a one-time audit of the Fed and what they have done from Dec. 1, 2007 until now, notwithstanding the special protections.

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After making some major changes late in the day today, Sen. Bernie Sanders' [I, VT] amendment to audit the Federal Reserve has the support of Banking Committee Chairman Sen. Chris Dodd [D, CT] and the White House, both of whom were concerned that opening the Fed up to audits would threaten their independence.

The revised amendment (.pdf) would not amend U.S. law so as to indefinitely open up the Fed to full audits like the original amendment would have. Instead it is focused on making information about the Fed's actions in response to the financial crisis public. It would reveal information about which banks received special deals from the Fed, how much money they got, and when we can expect to get it back. But after that, the Fed would go back to operating under the same level of secrecy they enjoy currently.

Specifically, based on my reading of the legislative text, here's what's in the revised amendment.

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Working the Agency That's Enacting the Law

April 8, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

People generally think of Members of Congress as influencing policy through committee work, floor debates, public advocacy, and other stuff that might be on C-SPAN or proudly announced in a press release from their office. But, I'm sitting here reading through the Federal Trade Commission's rule to ban deceptive marketing of "free" credit reports, as required by Congress in the credit card reform bill, and it's a great example of the type of work that lawmakers do to influence policy that, while technically disclosed to the public, flies way beneath the radar of anything anyone is paying attention to.

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Derivatives, those obscure financial products built off the value of other assets, have their historical roots in agriculture. Farmers and investors would place bets against the harvest as a way to hedge against the uncertainty involved in making your living off of raising food. The derivatives market is now a several hundred trillion dollar, highly complex financial market, but the congressional agricultural committees still hold legacy jurisdiction over regulating it.

TNR's Noam Scheiber has a great piece on the state of financial reform in the Senate, describing an emerging strategy to put some relatively strong consumer protections in the bill while giving Wall Street much of what they want in areas that the public isn't paying attention to. Derivatives reform -- or the lack therof -- is likely going to be the area where Wall Street gets their biggest win, and the Senate Agriculture Committee is set up to be the driving forces behind delivering it.

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