MAPlight helps you ‘follow the money’

· Edgewise, Paleoblogs, Reform

Years ago B and I dreamed about something called the “Senator From” project, based on the idea that, for example, Scoop Jackson used to be known as “the Senator from Boeing.” We’d take the public info available and identify the largest contributors to candidate and officeholder. Great idea, but we didn’t know how to execute on it given mid-90s technology and our limited knowhow at the time.
Now, TakeBackCA.org, a nonprofit dedicated to campaign finance reform, has remade itself as the MAPlight project to expose “connection between money and votes in California politics”:

Startling Findings Available at www.MAPLight.org

Berkeley, CA. October 17, 2006 – Today MAPLight.org unveiled a pioneering database that lays bare the connection between money and votes in California politics.

“Information that used to take days to dig up and connect is now available at the click of a mouse,” says Dan Newman, Executive Director of MAPLight.org. “How often did each legislator vote with the special interests that financed their election campaigns? MAPLight.org now provides the answers.”

The MAPLight.org website combines information from the Official California Legislative Information website, which contains the official text of each bill and how each legislator voted, and the Institute on Money in State Politics, a national nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to accurate, comprehensive and unbiased documentation and research on campaign finance.

MAPLight.org allows journalists and citizens to answer questions such as:

  • How did a legislator vote on a particular bill, and who are the top contributors to that legislator?
  • How often did legislators vote to support bills their top contributors supported?
  • How often did special interests (such as insurance companies or drug companies) succeed in blocking bills that did not serve their interests?

“MAPLight.org is extremely flexible and easy to use,” said Newman. “You can approach your research in the way that is most interesting to you. You can browse through legislation either by the subject area or bill number that concerns you. Or you can start by looking at the special interests, or at the voting records. Soon we will have ‘real time’ XML feeds and widgets for blogs and desktops.”

About MAPLight.org

MAPLight.org, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization based in Berkeley, California, illuminates the connection between money and politics. MAPLight.org shines a light on campaign contributions and related legislative outcomes, which leads to a more informed public and election reform.

Contact: Dan Newman, Executive Director, 510-868-0894 (office), 510-868-3304 (cell), info@takebackca.org

Pretty cool, huh?
Full disclosure: I’m on the advisory board for MAPlight.

Take Back California is looking for a Development Director

· Reform

Take Back California is a nonprofit promoting clean-money elections. I’m on its advisory board and the Executive Director is my friend and colleague Dan Newman. They are currently searching for a part-time or full-time Development Director:

The Development Director is responsible for building, leading and growing the development functions of TakeBackCA.org. Our main focus is on major gifts and foundation grants; we have initial efforts currently underway in both these areas. The director will be expected to provide leadership to board members and staff regarding all development functions of the organization. Key responsibilities include planning and implementing:

  • An annual development plan (including task lists for staff, board, and volunteers)

  • An individual solicitation program including:

    • Major donor campaign (identification, cultivation, solicitation research)

    • Coordination of event planning (house parties and similar small events initially)

  • Grant solicitation (including local and national foundations)

  • Preparation of development materials (annual reports, e-newsletter, etc.)

Reform Comments are off for this post.

That nuclear option: building a better House

· Reform

Xian beat me to it; I was going to post about the idea to stop electing Representatives from districts and have each state choose its electors as a bloc (thus, California would send 53 Democrats). Kleiman was talking about only amending California’s constitution, and thus producing a Democratic-controlled House.

Such a change won’t happen, but I got thinking about the same hypothetical as xian: if every state did this, what would the party breakdown be? Presumably Texas would send 32 Republicans; what would happen if this were universal?

Currently there are 232 Republican seats and 203 Democratic ones (if we include independent Bernie Sanders, who caucuses with the Dems). To figure this very precisely, someone would have to total up all the votes for the House in each state by party. But we can get a first approximation by using the statewide vote count for president: If in every state, the party that won the presidential race also chose the entire block of Representatives, we’d have 224 Republicans and 211 Democrats.

OK, so (to use Cold War vocabulary) Kleiman’s idea is a first-strike advantage, and because Democrats currently dominate the most populous states it would probably give them a long-term edge. But that edge would shrink as Republicans copy the idea in their most populous states.

Raising the subject allows me to throw out my own wish, although it’s not one that would realign the party count: We need to expand the number of members in the House of Representatives. Here are some calculations from one web site:

If Congress wanted to keep the electoral college but make it fairer, there is a simple (but unlikely) solution: increase the size of the House of Representatives. There is nothing in the constitution mandating a particular size except that each member must represent at least 30,000 people (which puts an upper limit on the House of about 10,000 members). In fact, the House has been expanded repeatedly in the past as the nation grew. The most recent expansion was in 1911, when the U.S. population was about 93 million, so a representative had 212,000 constituents. With the current population of 293 million, a representative has 674,000 constituents. To bring this number back to its 1911 value, the House should be expanded to 1370 members. Since a state’s electoral vote is equal to its congressional representation, with 1370 House members, the effect of the 100 senators would be much smaller and the electoral votes would be almost proportional to population. To increase the size of the House, Congress would merely have to pass a law; the states would not be involved at all.

It would be harder to gerrymander smaller districts. Each Rep. would have to be more in touch with their specific constituents; they’d still be subject to purchase, but the lobby money would have to be spread among more pols, reducing the impact on most individual races. The electoral college would be closer to representing one-person-one-vote, reducing (but not eliminating) the disproportionate clout that low-population states currently hold, using a method that dodges that clout (Congressional vote and Presidential signature instead of Constitutional amendment).

But such a proposal would have to be nearly “revenue-neutral” to pass: if a larger House would necessary and obviously swing control of Congress or the White House to the Democratic party, it won’t happen. Under the current apportionment method, if you increase the number of members, the Democratic states would pick up new ones faster. Change the calculation method slightly so the Republicans hold about the same proportion (51.5%) of the new House seats / Electoral College votes, and the idea would have a chance. In a 1000-member House, we’d be talking about moving 10 to 20 seats in absolute terms to maintain the current balance in percentage terms.

OK, we need a large, odd number, but nobody’s going to get anything done in a legislative chamber with 1370 participants. What if we just went to 999 members? No, somebody would complain that that’s really a surreptitious way of imposing the Mark of the Beast on America. Then, how about 869, just about double the current number? Ah, no; the American Taliban wouldn’t allow “69” in public discourse.

What about 835? Not quite doubling the number; each member would represent just under 350,000 people. It would certainly be attractive to a lot of politicians, because it increases their job market—more state legislators move up. States that currently have very few reps would waffle: After more than 225 years, Delaware finally gets a second representative; Utah sued because they were only 80 residents away from a fourth rep, and here’s a way for them to get it. But overall, power in the House and in the Electoral College would be diluted away from small states in general.

However, I think most medium-sized states would like to send another five to ten members. And because we wouldn’t have to vote state by state, I think the current large-state advantage could make such a vote a slam-dunk.

OK, shoot that down.

(updated to reflect Doris Matsui’s win yesterday)

We oppose Gonzales

· Reform

We are against torture. The Gonzales nomination may be ineluctable but we would like to go on record as opposing it. In the future we want people to know that not everyone in the U.S. made excuses for atrocities.

Quoting from No on Gonzales:

Unprecedented times call for unprecedented actions. In this case, we, the undersigned bloggers, have decided to speak as one and collectively author a document of opposition. We oppose the nomination of Alberto Gonzales to the position of Attorney General of the United States, and we urge every United States Senator to vote against him.

As the prime legal architect for the policy of torture adopted by the Bush Administration, Gonzales’s advice led directly to the abandonment of longstanding federal laws, the Geneva Conventions, and the United States Constitution itself. Our country, in following Gonzales’s legal opinions, has forsaken its commitment to human rights and the rule of law and shamed itself before the world with our conduct at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. The United States, a nation founded on respect for law and human rights, should not have as its Attorney General the architect of the law’s undoing.

In January 2002, Gonzales advised the President that the United States Constitution does not apply to his actions as Commander in Chief, and thus the President could declare the Geneva Conventions inoperative. Gonzales’s endorsement of the August 2002 Bybee/Yoo Memorandum approved a definition of torture so vague and evasive as to declare it nonexistent. Most shockingly, he has embraced the unacceptable view that the President has the power to ignore the Constitution, laws duly enacted by Congress and International treaties duly ratified by the United States. He has called the Geneva Conventions “quaint.”

Legal opinions at the highest level have grave consequences. What were the consequences of Gonzales’s actions? The policies for which Gonzales provided a cover of legality – views which he expressly reasserted in his Senate confirmation hearings – inexorably led to abuses that have undermined military discipline and the moral authority our nation once carried. His actions led directly to documented violations at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo and widespread abusive conduct in locales around the world.

Michael Posner of Human Rights First observed: “After the horrific images from Abu Ghraib became public last year, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld insisted that the world should ‘judge us by our actions [and] watch how a democracy deals with the wrongdoing and with scandal and the pain of acknowledging and correcting our own mistakes.'” We agree. It is because of this that we believe the only proper course of action is for the Senate to reject Alberto Gonzales’s nomination for Attorney General. As Posner notes, “[t]he world is indeed watching.” Will the Senate condone torture? Will the Senate condone the rejection of the rule of law?

With this nomination, we have arrived at a crossroads as a nation. Now is the time for all citizens of conscience to stand up and take responsibility for what the world saw, and, truly, much that we have not seen, at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. We oppose the confirmation of Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General of the United States, and we urge the Senate to reject him.

Signed, Daily Kos Management (past and present):

kos
Steve Gilliard
Steve Soto
Meteor Blades
Theoria
DHinMi
Trapper John
DemfromCt
DavidNYC
A Gilas Girl
Hunter
kid oakland
Armando

Update by kos: If you blog, and agree with these sentiments (and blog about them), please send me the link to the corresponding post and I will add it to this list.

Seeing the Forest
Patridiots
Just Between Strangers
The Talent Show
Capitol Banter
Democratic Veteran
Fiat Lux
Mahablog
Thoughts from Kansas
Biomes Blog
Dohiyi Mir
Liberal Oasis
Temporary Autonomous Blog
Steve Audio
News Junkie
Antiblog
Fallen Monk
Biscuit Report
Damek
Pudentilla
Blues State
Political Rugger
Brains and Eggs
Bush Watch
Archy
Newsfare
American Blog Party
Become the Media
Rudiriet
Give Love:Get Love
Paperweight’s Fair Shot
It’s not a Democracy
Democracy for MA
Alluvus
Progressive Focus
Burnt Orange Report
Delivering Hope
Badger Blues
Situation Room
Cosas (Spanish)
Independent Report
Do Not Confirm
Politics in the Zeros
Commonwealth Commonsense
I Cogitate
Joyce in the Mts
Dean TV
This Century Sucks
Dove’s Eye View
Also Also
4 Guys Named Pete
Wiseass
Notes in Samsara
Left Wing Cracker
Faith Forward
Majority Report Radio
Democracy for NM
Gail-Davis
Democracy for CO
The SNAFU Principle
Porta Pulpit
Island of Balta
K Street Blues
Smafty Mac
BOP News
44th President
Pharyngula
Diets Are Evil
Alex Whalen
Booze Cabinet
The Quipper
Hoffmania
Austin Mayor
Slapnose
PDA
Tom Coburn is a Big Fat Jerk
Gjoblaag
Witty and Urbane
Heart, Soul and Humor
The Big Lowitzki
DriveDemocracy
Interesting Times
Blah blah blah
Ken Sain
Department of Louise
The Thorn Papers
Curiosity is a Virtue
Noah’s Weblog
Reading A1
Apathy and Empathy
LeanLeft
Different Strings
D-Day
Gracchus
Hughes for America
Rooftop Report
A Heathen’s Perspective
Loudocracy
Oklahoma Hippy
The Indy Voice
Kentucky Democrat
Norwegianity
Frederick Clarkson
Doty Blog
Shawn’s Website
Republic of T
Unfair Witness
Reform Comments are off for this post.

Torture is bad

· Among the Barbarians, Democrats, Reform, Republicans

There. I’ve gone out on a limb and said it. I feel so brave.

Quoting from the Nielsen Haydens’ blog (Happy New Year):

Ogged of Unfogged:

[…T]his will become a “Democrats are soft and looking to score points” issue. I’ve given up. Complain, protest, organize and fund all you want; one more attack here and your neighbors will be lining up to torture somebody, anybody.

Ezra of Pandagon:

Unfogged is right; barring a miracle of competence and media responsibility, opposing torture will end up making the Democrats look like we get the vapors whenever the menfolk whip out the cigars and talk terrorism. Our press flacks are ineffective, our caucus can’t stick to a message, and we don’t have a party leader charged with articulating our position to the public.

Doesn’t matter. Torture just isn’t something you compromise on. I’m as coldly political as the next guy, but not torture. That’s not part of the country I grew up believing in.

Digby of Hullabaloo:

[T]he mere act of finally drawing that line in the sand, of saying “No More,” is the very thing that refutes the charge. It’s hemming and hawing and splitting the difference and “meeting halfway” and offering compromises on matters of principle that makes the charge of Democratic spinelessness believable. This isn’t about a special interest giving money or bending to the will of a powerful constituency. People can feel the difference. There is nothing weak about simply and forcefully standing up for what is right. […] I think it may just be a defining issue for Democrats.

It’s not that I believe that all Americans are horrified, or even a majority of Americans are horrified. Clearly, the dittoheads think it is just ducky. But that isn’t the point. Just because they aren’t horrified or even endorse it on some level doesn’t mean that they don’t know that it’s wrong. They do. And it is very uncomfortable to be put in the position of defending yourself when you know you are wrong. Even good people find ways, but it cuts a little piece out of their self-respect every time they do it.

Every person alive in America today grew up with the belief that torture is wrong. Popular culture, religion, folklore and every other form of cultural instruction for decades in this country has taught that it is wrong, from sermons and lectures to films about slavery to photographs of Auschwitz to crime shows about serial killers. [1] It is embedded in our consciousness. We teach our children that it is wrong to torture animals and other kids. We don’t say that there are exceptions for when the animals or kids are really, really bad. We have laws on the books that outright outlaw it. The words “cruel and unusual” are written into our constitution.

The problem is not that there isn’t a widely accepted admonition not to conduct torture, it’s that many people, as with all crimes, will choose to ignore the admonition under certain circumstances. However, that does not mean that they do not know that what they are doing is wrong. There is nothing surprising in that. It’s why we have laws.

The arguments for torture being raised by the right are rationalizations for what they know is immoral and illegal conduct. Their discomfort with the subject clearly indicates that they don’t really want to defend it. (Witness the pathetic dance that even that S&M freak Rush Limbaugh had to do after his comments were widely disseminated.) Will they admit that they know it’s wrong? Of course not. But when they take up their manly jihad and accuse the Democrats of being swooning schoolgirls they will also be forced to positively defend something that many of them know very well is indefensible. And every time they do that their credibility on values and morals is chipped away a little bit.

I don’t expect them to change their tune. Way too much of this comes from a defect in temperament and garden-variety racism and that’s not going to go away. But Democrats have to thicken their skins and be prepared for the usual attacks and insist over and over again that it is against the values and principles of the United States to torture people, period. It is not only right, it is smart.

As I wrote below, the opposition will bluster and fidget and scream bloody murder. But listen to the tenor of their arguments. [2] [The Wall Street Journal] rails against the “glib abuse of the word” as if they can run away from the issue by engaging in a game of semantics. They are reduced to claiming that unless we torture it will be unilateral disarmament. We, the most powerful military force the world has ever known, will be defeated by a bunch of third world religious misfits if we don’t engage in torturing suspects. Just who sounds weak?

—–
[1] Maureen Dowd: “Before [Alberto Gonzales] helped President Bush circumvent the accords and reserve the right to do so ‘in this or future conflicts,’ you had to tune in to an old movie with Nazi generals or Vietcong guards if you wanted to see someone sneeringly shrug off the international treaty protecting prisoners from abuse. (‘You worthless running dog Chuck Norris! What do we care about your silly Geneva Conventions?’)”

[2] The Poor Man: “The point is this:
‘To protect subordinates should they be charged with torture, the memo advised that Mr. Bush issue a “presidential directive or other writing” that could serve as evidence, since authority to set aside the laws is “inherent in the president.”‘ Alberto Gonzales thinks that the Magna Carta is liberal pablum.”