Category Archives: Politics

No Villains

Source: John N. Berry III, Library Journal, September 15, 2009

Threatened cuts and partial restorations point out the ambiguous politics of library funding.

Hard times bring out the ambiguity in politics. Except for fiscal extremists, most politicians in North America want to support their libraries. When LJ planned to name the heroes and villains in the politics of library funding, we rediscovered that politics just isn’t that simple.

We learned that it is a bad idea for library advocates and political strategists to label even what seem to be the most offensive politicians as villains. Library advocates are understandably constrained from getting angry. Attacking a politician rarely changes his or her mind, and after you have done it, negotiating with that person for library support is nearly impossible.

Worker Pay Protection: Implications for Labor’s Political Spending and Voice

Source: Marick F. Masters, Raymond Gibney, And Thomas J. Zagenczyk, Industrial Relations: A Journal of Economy and Society, Volume 48 Issue 4, Published Online: 24 Aug 2009
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Labor’s participation in politics requires money. Within legal restrictions, unions use compulsory dues to pay for much of their involvement. Such usage has continually raised controversy, leading to a host of U.S. Supreme Court decisions to give nonmember dues-payers the right to object to union political spending. We examine the current legal framework and are the first to report comprehensive data on union political spending financed from dues. We estimate the potential impact of a national “worker paycheck protection” law on labor’s political spending. With the potential to reduce money available to finance union involvement in politics, such a law may lessen the ability of labor to have its voice heard by lawmakers, especially in the face of shrinking density in the workforce. The importance of this is demonstrated by the large role unions played in the 2008 congressional and presidential elections. Despite Democratic victories in that historic year, “paycheck protection” is likely to loom large, fueled by efforts to enact the Employee Free Choice Act.

The Potential Role of Entitlement or Budget Commissions in Addressing Long-term Budget Problems

Source: Fiscal Seminar Group, Brookings Institution, June 2009

From the summary:
The United States is facing a looming fiscal imbalance brought on by the aging of the population and rapidly rising health care costs. And while the credit crisis and recession are understandably of top concern to policymakers at the moment, the long-run fiscal outlook, seemingly deteriorating further day by day, cannot be ignored.

Unfortunately, the current political environment creates strong disincentives for individual politicians to tackle the tough choices required to put our fiscal house back in order. An appointed commission could offer an alternative mechanism through which to address these thorny but critical issues by undertaking the heavy lifting of developing options and building the political consensus necessary to enact legislation. As evidence of the popularity of this idea, over a dozen bills were introduced in the 110th Congress that would have created commissions to find politically and fiscally acceptable solutions for reforming entitlements, taxes, the budgeting process, or some combination of the three. This paper reviews some of the recent history of appointed commissions and discusses the issues surrounding their potential role in long-term federal budgeting.

Industries Storm States Over Climate Change

Source: Tyler Evilsizer, National Institute on Money in State Politics, March 18, 2009

From the press release:
As the climate change debate heats up in the states, those with a keen interest in the issue have turned up the pressure to make sure their voices are heard in the lawmaking process. Between 2003 and 2007, energy-related companies contributed $151 million to state-level politics; chambers of commerce, manufacturers and pro-business organizations gave an additional $31.4 million. In sharp contrast, environmental organizations and alternative energy companies contributed only $26 million.

These numbers, from a study released by, show that members of energy and manufacturing coalitions gave 80 percent of their donations to incumbent lawmakers. Coalition members heavily favored Republicans, giving them 62 percent of their donations. Coalition donors were very targeted, giving more than seven times the amount of money to those who went on to win their elections than they gave to candidates who lost. Of further interest is that sixty percent of their contributions went to only six states: California, Illinois, Florida, Texas, Alabama and Virginia.

Energy and manufacturing coalitions didn’t stop after the elections. They employed 7,538 lobbyists to influence legislation at the state level; almost half hired specifically by energy and natural resource companies.

Environmental and alternative energy groups did not sit idly by on the sidelines during this same five-year period. Of the $26 million they gave in political contributions, $22 million focused on influencing the outcome of ballot initiatives. These groups distributed their candidate donations more evenly, giving 38 percent to incumbents, 28 percent to challengers, and 34 percent to candidates in open seat contests. They, too, were effective in their giving, with two-thirds of their money going to winning candidates.

Apps for America Winners

Source: Sunlight Foundation, April 20, 2009
Enter your zip code and see your local Congress People along with their financial information, their contact information, their voting records, and a voting comparison chart of your senators. The app also displays the top ten presidential contributors for your zip code and the top ten recipients of government spending in your zip code.

allows users to view the independent expenditures made in a specific congressional race, in support of or opposition to an individual candidate, or commissioned by a particular PAC.

Call Congress

When’s the last time you talked to your Senator or Representative’s office? Is there an issue you care about that Congress isn’t addressing? Do you have a question about someone’s position on an issue? You need to Call Congress. When you use Call Congress to contact a Congressperson, a recording of the call is automatically posted online for everyone to hear. Don’t want the call to be recorded? You can still use the site to get contact info for your Senators and Representative.

Yeas & Nays
Yeas & Nays is a browser plug-in that transforms any webpage into a means for contacting Congressional representatives

Among the entries:
District-by-District Organizing Tool
A social networking framework for citizen organizing by congressional district.

The Petition Archives

The Petitions Archives allows people to publish and preserve the personal email petitions they send public figures.

FlashGraffer presents a graphical view of campaign contributions by industries to members of 36 House and Senate committees (110th Congress). Several interactive features let the user select different committees and highlight contributions patterns.

Where the Money Goes
Where the Money Goes makes it easier to visualize the contributions that political action committees (PACs) make to each other, and to your members of Congress.


Source: Fillibusted, 2009

The arcane details of what goes on in the U.S. Senate are recorded on a daily basis by GovTrack, then put into a machine-readable format so it can be consumed by others.

Every night, Filibusted checks to see what the Senate voted on that day. If there were any cloture votes, it finds out all it can about them — any associated bills and amendments, who voted which way, and so on — and stores it. Goes OpenData

Source: Center for Responsive Politics, Press release, April 13, 2009

Award-winning website from the Center for Responsive Politics now provides 20 years of downloadable money-in-politics data–for free.

Politicians, prepare yourselves. Lobbyists, look out. Today the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics is putting 200 million data records from the watchdog group’s archive directly into the hands of citizens, activists, journalists and anyone else interested in following the money in U.S. politics.

For the first time in CRP’s 26-year history, the nonprofit research group’s most popular data archives are fully and freely downloadable for non-commercial purposes from the Center’s website,–a four-time Webby winner for best politics site online. will remain the go-to independent source for most users interested in tracking money’s political influence and, in fact, the site has some new general-interest features as of today.

The following data sets, along with a user guide, resource tables and other documentation, are now available in CSV format (comma-separated values, for easy importing) through’s Action Center:

Marxism as a Capitalist Tool

Source: David Ellerman, University of California at Riverside, February 2009

From the abstract:
Just as the two sides in the Cold War agreed that Western Capitalism and Soviet Communism were “the” two alternatives, so the two sides in the intellectual Great Debate agreed on a common framing of questions with the defenders of capitalism taking one side and Marxists taking the other side of the questions. From the viewpoint of economic democracy (e.g., a labor-managed market economy), this late Great Debate between capitalism and socialism was as misframed as would be an antebellum ‘Great Debate’ between the private or public ownership of slaves. Even though the Great Debate between capitalism and socialism is now in the dustbin of intellectual history, Marxism still plays an important role in sustaining the misframing of the questions so that the defenders of the present employment system do not have to face the real questions that separate that system from a system of economic democracy. In that sense, Marxism has become the ultimate capitalist tool.

Source:, 2009, a groundbreaking public database, illuminates the connection between campaign donations and legislative votes in unprecedented ways. Elected officials collect large sums of money to run their campaigns, and they often pay back campaign contributors with special access and favorable laws.

This common practice is contrary to the public interest, yet legal. makes money/vote connections transparent, to help citizens hold their legislators accountable.

The Database combines three data sets:

* Bill texts and legislative voting records
* Supporting and opposing interests for each bill
* Campaign contribution data from the Center for Responsive Politics and the National Institute on Money in State Politics

Combining this data makes visible key information that could never before be determined easily. For example:

* Contributions given by interests supporting and opposing each bill
* Average donations given to legislators voting Yes and No on each bill
* Timeline of contributions and votes for each bill, graphically identifying when legislators received large donations before or after their vote.