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How to End Government Secrecy

Yesterday was the much-anticipated webcast on government secrecy and the newest online resources available for uncovering information (watch the archived event here).

Remember the checks and balances and our freedoms of speech and press?  They were written into the Constitution and Bill of Rights to ensure we had the tools to hold government accountable.

So, what happened?  How do you explain how the Bush Administration has gotten away with so much unnecessary secrecy over the past seven years?

According to the first panel in the webcast, part of the reason is partisan politics.  As noted by former Rep. Mickey Edwards (R-Okla.), it seems that some in Congress hold the President up as the leader of the party instead of the leader of a co-equal branch of government to be checked.  From 2000 to 2006, Bush had a "rubber stamp" Congress that he knew would not challenge him no matter how he abused his powers.  Since then it seems other political concerns may be preventing Congress from holding the President accountable.

More than 74% of Americans feel the government is somewhat or very secretive, according to a national poll conducted for Sunshine Week.  Edwards quipped that he wondered what was wrong with the other 26%.  Perhaps they simply don’t know what they’re missing.

We must wield information if we are to rule ourselves in this democracy.  Our second panel presented some “insanely useful” websites for arming the citizenry.  Here are some easy ways find out more about candidates, elected officials and other government activities:

Everyblock – keep up to date on local crime rates, restaurant inspections, graffiti cleanup.  Currently available in Chicago, New York, and San Francisco, this website aggregated data from municipal governments and makes it easy to find information.

OpenCongress.org – get profiles on your members of Congress, track bills as they go through the legislative process, and monitor the issues you care about.

OpenSecrets.org – this is the place to get non-partisan analysis of how money impacts politics.  Who is donating money whom and is the public paying the price?

WhiteHouseForSale.org – Public Citizen’s website to track bundlers, or people who funnel contributions to presidential campaigns.

FedSpending.org – you have a right to know how the government spends your tax dollars and this website crunches the numbers.

SunlightLabs.org – a collection of prototype tech ideas to improve government transparency and political influence disclosure.

What resources are you using to shine light on government?  Let us know in the comments.