"OpenCongress.org" Opens for Business

Today NPR/WNYC's "On the Media" covered the launch of OpenCongress.org. The new web site is a joint project of the Sunlight Foundation and the Participatory Politics Foundation. The Foundation's technology advisor Micah Sifry, interviewed for the radio story, said that much of the information presented on the new site is "hidden in plain sight" or available only on print form not widely disseminated. Sifry suggested that legislators and their staffs will be able to examine Blogosphere buzz more readily, which might not have been readily available previously.

The site features include:
  • An examination of Sen. Schumer's voting record, for example, allows comparison with other Senators with most-similar and least-similar voting records.
  • Links to blog sites appear to be automated, which can result in spam-filled, poorly spelled and even more poorly reasoned commentaries along with the good
  • Data from OpenSecrets.org details sources of campaign contributions, though the groupings can be odd, e.g., "Lawyers and Lobbyists"
  • PRI's "Marketplace" has been featuring lobbyist-subsidized travel by legislators. That information is also available at OpenSecrets.org.
  • Most-viewed Bills. E.g., today's most-viewed bill is H.R. 73, "Citizens' Self-Defense Act of 2007." Not surprisingly, the bills are not always covered well in the general press. (Nor should they, necessarily -- this would depend upon the particular bill, though the presence of buzz is a curiosity that is itself news).
  • RSS feeds are available for Most-Viewed Bills, Most-Viewed Senators, Most-Viewed Representatives, Most-Viewed Committees, Most-Viewed Issues, specific committees (e.g., House Armed Services Committee)

OpenCongress.org is a model that would work well for state and local governments, but funding is required to make this possible. A lot of work goes into OpenCongress.org and OpenSecrets.org that is less easily funded for smaller constituent groups.

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