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What's New with Friends of OpenCongress

February 7, 2008 - by David Moore

Here at OpenCongress, we’re continuing to improve our new features to make them more powerful tools for tracking and sharing the best info about Congress. Below are some quick hits about what’s new with a few of our partners in this effort.

Earlier this week, we were pleased to see that the release of “My OpenCongress” received a mention on the community weblog MetaFilter as “”http://www.metafilter.com/68781/Congress-20">"Congress 2.0". Thanks to all the commenters there for the thumbs-up on our new tracking and social networking features. Elsewhere around the web, plenty of uses of our site to highlight: our bill page for a prominent Iraq bill (H.R.4959) got a link on Think Progress (thanks Matt!) and we earned a nice mention on TechFun: “…it is now easier than ever before to find out if your Senators and House members are voting for or against policies that matter to you” (thanks JD!). Finally, we’re pleased that Prof. Susan Crawford continues to link to our Blog’s coverage of the twists and turns with the high-profile FISA reform bill — glad that our Blog is meeting its goal of making the byzantine Congressional process more accessible.

Another exciting announcement came from Ellen Miller of the Sunlight Foundation: the highly-useful campaign contribution resource MAPLight just added links to OpenCongress on every one of their bill pages’ tabs for “In The News” (for example, here’s the the 2007 Mortgage bill that is currently our most-viewed). As Ellen mentions, we’re almost finished setting up reciprocal links back to MAPLight bill pages, won’t be long, and we’ll make an announcement here when they’re live — all part of our ongoing efforts to make sure that our bill pages give you access to all the best info available about what’s really happening in Congress.

Speaking of money in politics, all of our data on campaign contributions comes from the Center for Responsive Politics and their renowned resource, OpenSecrets. We’re proud to announce that OpenCongress now receives continually-refreshing, up-to-date data on contributions made in the 2008 federal election cycle from OpenSecrets. (In slightly more technical detail, our site now works directly with the OpenSecrets API — thanks to Susi, Ben, and everyone at CRP for making it happen!) To see the latest data, just scroll down to the bottom of the page for any Member of Congress, such as our most-viewed from each chamber this month, Sen. Obama and Rep. Ron Paul. As always, the “My OpenCongress” community is encouraged to draw upon this campaign contribution info when posting comments on pages for Senators and Representatives. We’re working to counter corruption in government by making it easier for anyone to make connections between money, votes, and the substance of bills — then, crucially, to publicize their findings using our built-in “sharing” features located at the top of our pages and through social networking on OpenCongress.

Finally, there are a lot of encouraging and open projects going on to use publicly-editable ‘wiki’ pages to make bills less arcane and more intelligible. First to mention: last summer, our colleagues at Congresspedia (a joint project of the Sunlight Foundation and the Center for Media and Democracy) launched “Wiki the Vote”, their portal for legislation and issues in the U.S. Congress. Along the same lines, we recently received a site update from Matt Burton of Readable Laws, who writes: “… users have begun nominating bills for translation and have been decoding them section by section”. One of them is the big-ticket House version of the Economic Stimulus Bill (H.R. 5140) — you can read the analysis or help translate it into plain English. One last project definitely worth checking out comes from the indispensable GovTrack, which provides OpenCongress with all its official Congressional data (straight from THOMAS itself): it’s a new Legislative Analysis Blog about pending U.S. legislation. Congrats to Josh Tauberer and his contributors on the launch, you can get involved on their wiki page.

We’ll have more to write here soon about what’s hot with users of “”/register">My OpenCongress", some noteworthy improvements to the Friends page and RSS offerings for our users, and interesting examples of how bloggers and issue-based groups are using our new features to track the things they care about in Congress. Your feedback is always welcome: writeus at opencongress.org.

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