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Political advertisers and TV stations ignore disclosure rules

December 20, 2013 Comments off

Political advertisers and TV stations ignore disclosure rules
Source: Sunlight Foundation

In a 2003 Supreme Court opinion on the biggest campaign reforms in a generation, Justice Stephen Breyer reflected on a little-known provision that required outside groups to disclose additional details about their political ad spending at local TV stations. “Recordkeeping can help both the regulatory agencies and the public evaluate broadcasting fairness,” Breyer wrote, “and determine the amount of money that individuals or groups, supporters or opponents, intend to spend to help elect a particular candidate.”

But a decade after the Supreme Court ruling, an extensive review of these documents by the Sunlight Foundation reveals that TV stations often fail to report even the most basic information about the political ads that outside groups buy on their airwaves. As a result, the records that Breyer said would facilitate public watchdogging are spotty or don’t exist. There’s no way to total reliably how much is being spent for or against a candidate, or, in some cases, who is doing the spending. A systematic review of 200 randomly-selected ad buys made by outside groups found that fewer than 1 in 6 ads targeting federal candidates disclosed the name of the candidate or election mentioned.

Such omissions deprive the voting public of important information. TV ad files have become an increasingly important tool for tracking otherwise undisclosed political spending by groups that run the gamut from well-known trade associations and unions to lesser-known operations whose anodyne names offer little information about the financial or political interests behind them: “Americans for Job Security,” for instance, or “Checks and Balances for Economic Growth.” In the wake of court decisions making it easier to route big money through outside groups, broadcast political TV ads jumped to an estimated $5.6 billion in 2012 — up 30% from 2008. Yet in spite of this massive payday, stations still find it hard to fill out paperwork about their benefactors.

About these ads

Good enough for government work? The contractors building Obamacare

October 23, 2013 Comments off

Good enough for government work? The contractors building Obamacare
Source: Sunlight Foundation

The Obama administration dreamed that its health insurance exchanges–the websites that were supposed to make it easy to buy health insurance–would function as smoothly as online consumer sites like Expedia or Amazon.com. But as head-scratching continues about how a famously web-savvy administration could have flubbed its Internet homework so badly, an examination by the Sunlight Foundation shows the administration turned the task of building its futuristic new health care technology planning and programming over to legacy contractors with deep political pockets.

One result: Problem-plagued online exchanges that make it all but impossible for consumers to buy insurance and hundreds of millions of dollars in the coffers of some of the biggest lobbying powerhouses in Washington.

Citing the government shutdown, the Health and Human Services Department will not release a list of the estimated dozen or more companies tasked with building the site. But Sunlight reviewed contract award information from USASpending.gov and FedBizOpps.gov, and found 47 organizations that won contracts from Health and Human Services or the Treasury Department to manage, support or service the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Among them were top contractors like Northrop Grumman, Deloitte LLP, SAIC Inc. General Dynamics and Booz Allen Hamilton. All fiveof those companies provided information technology services to either the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services or the Internal Revenue Service, the two agencies tasked with building back components of the health insurance exchanges.

The Political 1% of the 1% in 2012

July 1, 2013 Comments off

The Political 1% of the 1% in 2012
Source: Sunlight Foundation

In the 2012 election, 28 percent of all disclosed political contributions came from just 31,385 people. In a nation of 313.85 million, these donors represent the 1% of the 1%, an elite class that increasingly serves as the gatekeepers of public office in the United States.

Is Congress getting dumber, or just more plainspoken?

May 21, 2012 Comments off

Is Congress getting dumber, or just more plainspoken?Source: Sunlight Foundation

Congress now speaks at almost a full grade level lower than it did just seven years ago, with the most conservative members of Congress speaking on average at the lowest grade level, according to a new Sunlight Foundation analysis of the Congressional Record using Capitol Words.

Of course, what some might interpret as a dumbing down of Congress, others will see as more effective communications. And lawmakers of both parties still speak over the heads of the average American, who reads at between at 8th and 9th grade level.

Today’s Congress collectively speaks at a 10.6 grade level, down from 11.5 in 2005. By comparison, the U.S. Constitution is written at a 17.8 grade level and the Declaration of Independence at a 15.1 grade level. The Gettysburg Address comes in at an 11.2 grade level and Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech is at a 9.4 grade level. All these analyses use the Flesch-Kincaid test, which equates higher grade levels with longer words and longer sentences.

+ The changing complexity of congressional speech

Play ball! How MLB teams rank in political giving

April 5, 2012 Comments off

Play ball! How MLB teams rank in political giving
Source: Sunlight Foundation

It’s opening day of Major League Baseball’s 2012 season, so Sunlight has decided to take a look at which teams are the heaviest hitters when it comes to political giving.

Turns out the deepest pockets don’t always correlate with most home runs.

The Baltimore Orioles finished dead last in the American League East last year with a dismal record of 63 wins and 93 losses, but giving by their politically active owner, Peter Angelos, has made the Charm City team the champions of campaign giving.

Angelos gave more in the 2002 election cycle–some $2.1 million–than he did in any other. Perhaps the longtime Democratic donor wanted to influence the legislative fight to authorize the Department of Homeland Security, had a bitter taste left by the Supreme Court’s decision in Bush v. Gore, or wanted to distract himself from an announcement made by Commissioner Bud Selig that neighboring Washington — which Angelos long regarded as part of his market — was the prime choice to relocate the Montreal Expos. The O’s owner tried to block the move, failed, but did manage to win concessions including other owners guaranteeing a $365 million sales price should Angelos sell the team. He also forced an unfavorable TV deal on the team — which has prompted grousing but no serious pushback from members of Congress who, after all, control baseball’s antitrust exemption.

Another team that makes the top five of political givers, the Philadelphia Phillies, began upping contributions to state lawmakers in the late 1990s, just as the professional sports teams in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh began pressing the Pennsylvania legislature for funding for new stadiums. The legislature cooperated and the Phillies new Citizens Bank Park opened in 2004.

Despite the New York Yankees’ gold-plated payroll and the fact that late owner George Steinbrenner, was once temporarily suspended from baseball for making illegal campaign contributions to former president Richard Nixon, the lads in pinstripes finish out of the top-five of baseball’s campaign givers.

Federal Spending Reporting System Still Broken, According to New Analysis

September 22, 2011 Comments off

Federal Spending Reporting System Still Broken, According to New Analysis
Source: Sunlight Foundation

Today, the Sunlight Foundation releases its latest Clearspending report, a website and scorecard that analyzes how well U.S. government agencies report their spending data on USASpending.gov. The analysis is a follow-up to last year’s inaugural report, and covers federal spending for fiscal year 2008 through FY 2010.

According to Sunlight’s analysis, $1.3 trillion in federal spending was misreported in 2010. These data inaccuracies account for 94.5 percent of the total grant spending data reported last year, a less than one percent decrease over the previous year. Misreported funds for FY 2008 were 96.5 percent.

Sunlight testified twice before Congress this past spring on the issue, and lawmakers have responded with concern to the inaccuracies that our first Clearspending report uncovered. The Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (DATA Act) was introduced in June, and would establish an independent body to track all federal spending on a single website and require the use of consistent government-wide data standards. The White House also issued an executive order that called for a board to enforce greater transparency around federal spending.

“As the results of Clearspending show, the U.S. continues to lack genuine accountability for government spending. Although we’ve seen improvements in the past year, the truth is we cannot fully account for how the federal government spends about $1.3 trillion. That’s no negligible amount, especially when you compare it to the ‘Super Committee’s’ task of finding $1.5 trillion in deficit cuts. Spending accountability, data accuracy and independent review will help correct the vast misreporting on USASpending.gov. Sunlight’s Clearspending studies identify the problems, now it’s critical that we fix them so that Americans have all the tools they need to track federal spending,” said Ellen Miller, co-founder and executive director of the Sunlight Foundation.

+ Clearspending.org

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