One thing that almost everyone can agree on, regardless of political belief, is that our governments are far too opaque. It’s much harder than it should be to determine who’s giving money to candidates, who is making what changes to a piece of legislation, who is requesting earmarks, etc. Some of these can only be addressed by reforms from the inside, but thankfully there are some extremely smart outsiders working to increase transparency by pushing for change and by taking matters into their own hands – thanks to publicly available data and the internet.
There are a number of groups doing this important work, and here are a few of the ones I think you should be aware of:
I consider the Sunlight Foundation the grand-daddy of government transparency projects. They’ve only been around a couple of years, but they’ve already had success in making federal government information and data more accessible to citizens. Among the projects they’re involved with: OpenCongress.org, Congresspedia.org, FedSpending.org, OpenSecrets.org, and EarmarkWatch.org.
The Personal Democracy Forum explores the intersection of technology and democracy in America, and what it means to be an active citizen in that space. Of their work, I particularly recommend checking out their techPresident website and their free downloadable book of essays on reinventing government for the internet age, Rebooting America.
Another Sunlight Foundation project, Public Markup is an experiment in opening up the legislative process to public review online. For example, you can check out the Senate Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 and all of the comments people have on it.
MAPLight.org is a public database that shines light on the connection between legislative votes and campaign contributions.
GovTrack.us gives citizens the ability to track the status of federal legislation and the voting records of Senators and Representatives, among other things.
LegiStorm provides data on congressional staff salaries and privately financed trips taken by members of Congress and their staffers.
MetaVid is a public video archive of Congressional activity. It makes it easy to search for videos on a particular issue, bill, or for your representative.
GovernmentDocs.org makes federal documents more accessible and easier to share and comment on.