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Happy Sunshine Week: Transparency Report Cards, events in D.C., and advice for open government orgs

March 11, 2013 Leave a comment

swlogo2This year’s Sunshine Week is going on…right now! Here are some transparency news and notes to kick it off:

  • Last month we had the opportunity to highlight some of the transparency tools that Sunlight Foundation used to give advocates a helping hand in their everyday advocacy work. One tool, Open States, yielded an interesting by-product, which Sunlight rolled out today – Transparency Report Cards for each state. The report cards show the accessibility of each state’s legislative website, and grades how easily information can be accessed. Only eight states received A grades, which means that 42 states have some considerable work to do.
  • Transparency advocate Martin Tisne wrote on his blog today that open government organizations can and should do more than just release data that they collect. He says that they should take some clear steps:

-       Publish and be clear about how they see change happening as a result of the data/information they will ‘liberate’.

-       Map the different steps through which that change may happen, and be explicit about where they see their own organization fitting

-       This is the key bit I think – link up with other organizations that themselves are responsible for the other steps in the chain, and explore possible partnerships, seats on advisory boards, how to help them achieve their goals (but without necessarily deviating from their own core mission)

Keep an eye on SunshineWeek.org for all the events happening around the country, and follow them on Twitter at @SunshineWeek for more updates.

The state of open government, then and now

March 4, 2013 Leave a comment

lessons of watergateWe want to highlight a couple of events coming up in March that take a look back at some of the historical events that got the ball rolling on needed transparency reforms, and also examine the current state of open government. (Both events will be held in Washington D.C., sorry to those not in the District!)

First, on March 13-14, Common Cause hosts a two day conference and reception, Lessons of Watergate, which will explore lessons learned from the Watergate scandal and their resonance in 2013, which marks the fortieth anniversary of the break-in. The impressive speaker lineup features former Representative, Senator, and Cabinet Secretary William Cohen, former prosecutor and Judiciary Committee member Elizabeth Holtzman, Pentagon Papers author Daniel Ellsberg, former Senator Russ Feingold, and Common Cause chairman Robert Reich.

Read the full press release (PDF), view the full schedule (PDF), and register here.

Freedom of Information Day

Next, on Friday, March 15 is the fifteenth annual National Freedom of Information Day.  The one-day event will feature a keynote discussion by First Amendment attorney Floyd Abrams, and author and law professor Ronald L.K. Collins (who recently wrote a book on Abrams). Our friends at OpenTheGovernment.org will also be presenting its 8th annual Sunshine Week examination of federal government openness, focusing on the outlook for President Obama’s second term.

If you can’t make it, there will be a live webcast of the event as well. For more information, visit the Newseum website.

Stream our Democracy Exchange with Sunlight Foundation

February 27, 2013 Leave a comment

Sunlight CSDMiss our Democracy Exchange with Sunlight Foundation last week? You’re in luck! It’s now available to stream, with presentation and all!

Stream our Democracy Exchange with Amy Ngai of Sunlight Foundation

A huge thanks to Amy for giving demos and overviews of Sunlight’s transparency and opengov tools! Links to all the different sites are here:

Sunlight Foundation demos their transparency tools this Thursday!

February 19, 2013 Leave a comment

sunlight

This is a reminder that our next Democracy Exchange is coming up later this week! Sign up here, and read more:

This month we’re teaming with the Sunlight Foundation to give a primer on some of the transparency tools they have developed. This will be a very exciting webinar showing some great tools that help everyday folks access the work of their governments and officials.

Amy Ngai, Sunlight’s Partnership & Training Manager will lead us through the available tools, how to use them, and introduce some of their new projects.

Unlike our previous Exchanges, getting the most out of this particular webinar will require computer access for the hour.

If you have any questions please contact me at blee@strongerdemocracy.org.

Here’s the info:

Democracy Exchange with Amy Ngai of Sunlight Foundation

Thursday, February 21, 2013 — 2pm ET

SIGN UP FOR THE EXCHANGE HERE

Here’s a list of what Sunlight will be covering on the call:

  • Open States- research legislative information on state level
  • Capitol Words- search the Congressional Record
  • Influence Explorer explore campaign finance, lobbying and other government data
  • Docket Wrench- (new) tool that lets you identify influence in the regulatory process
  • Scout- search and alert system

Join us for our next Democracy Exchange on February 21 with Sunlight Foundation

February 4, 2013 Leave a comment

SunlightFoundationLogoWe just wrapped up a great Democracy Exchange last month, and we’re right back on the horse! This month we’re teaming with the Sunlight Foundation to give a primer on some of the transparency tools they have developed. This will be a very exciting webinar showing some great tools that help everyday folks access the work of their governments and officials.

Amy Ngai, Sunlight’s Partnership & Training Manager will lead us through the available tools, how to use them, and introduce some of their new projects.

Unlike our previous Exchanges, getting the most out of this particular webinar will require computer access for the hour.

If you have any questions please contact me at blee@strongerdemocracy.org.

Here’s the info:

Democracy Exchange with Amy Ngai of Sunlight Foundation

Thursday, February 21, 2013 — 2pm ET

SIGN UP FOR THE EXCHANGE HERE

Here’s a list of what Sunlight will be covering on the call:

  • Open States- research legislative information on state level
  • Capitol Words- search the Congressional Record
  • Influence Explorer explore campaign finance, lobbying and other government data
  • Docket Wrench- (new) tool that lets you identify influence in the regulatory process
  • Scout- search and alert system

Televise the Supreme Court?

Last week the Supreme Court heard three days of oral arguments over the Affordable Care Act. Over the course of the next few months, the Court will act entirely behind closed doors as they decide the fate of the Affordable Care Act (though in likelihood the Justices have already taken their vote), with a full decision coming in June.

Transparency can be a big step in changing the public’s view of the Court. Although the Court took steps to make audio recordings and transcripts of the health insurance hearings available the same day as arguments took place, cameras are still not allowed in the courtroom, and the Court declined a request from C-SPAN to broadcast the arguments over health insurance reform. However, media outlets have been more persistent in their calls for the Court to open its doors to cameras. Jules Witcover writes in the Chicago Tribune, arguing for broadcasting Supreme Court proceedings:

While virtually all other aspects of the American political system at work can today be observed directly by the citizenry, either live or on taped rebroadcast on television, the Supreme Court in session remains essentially in the dark. Hand-drawn sketches of the justices and lawyers must suffice because photographs also are prohibited.

A poll from this January by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that 75% of the public believes that the Supreme Court Justices let their ideologies play a role in their decisions, and 59% believe that on this particular case, the judges will allow their own ideologies to sway their decision. Could more transparency move the public in their view of the Court?

Cameras in the courtroom will likely not go all the way in swaying the public’s opinion. However, it could be an important first step by showing the public what goes on in the highest court in the country, one in which a large majority of Americans will never set foot.

Most states at severe risk for corruption

March 21, 2012 Leave a comment

This week the State Integrity Investigation released its final findings and scores. The investigation, headed by groups Global Integrity, Center for Public Integrity, and Public Radio International, looked into 330 different “corruption risk indicators” divided into 14 categories and used them to put together a final corruption risk grade for each state in the US. The categories deal with transparency, public access to information, ethics, judicial accountability, redistricting, and other areas.

Grades reflect the structures in place to prevent corruption, and the degree of access that the public has to these structures and mechanisms. Much of the grade, too, has to do with the “teeth” of the law, and what happens on the enforcement end. The end results and grades do not bode well for residents, as states overall have a long way to go in rooting out corruption.

Only four states nationwide received a grade of B or higher, while no states scored an A, and 8 states received F’s. More than half of the states, 26, received grades of D or F from the investigation. See each state’s final grades here.

What does this mean for democracy? It means that, by and large, states have not been doing a good job of presenting clear and open information for the public. Additionally, it means that the business of the people has been taking place largely behind closed doors, leaving considerable space for back-room deals and actions taken by officials that conflict with the public interest. Other reports have shown the areas in which corruption occurs the most (University of Illinois-Chicago Anti-Corruption Report, PDF), but even when laws and mechanisms are in place, corruption can and does happen. What matters more sometimes is how quickly offenders get caught, and how they are punished for their actions.

How can we push our states to enact tougher laws and, hopefully, improve their score for the next study? On each state’s page users can submit the scores to their representatives. Together, we can push our legislators to enact more stringent laws and structures to help root out corruption. It will require a large movement of the people because up until now, at least according to this thorough investigation, states have not been moving that much on their own.

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