Do you know where your congressman is?

Marketplace Staff Sep 15, 2006

BOB MOON: Congressional scandal never helps public trust in government. Last spring, one poll found that only 3 percent of Americans trust Congress — our representatives are in last place after the President and corporate leaders.

So, it caught our eye when we heard that the nonprofit Sunlight Foundation is offering $1,000 to people who can get their senator or congressman to post their schedule on the Internet. Commentator and director of the foundation, Ellen Miller, explains why that’s important.

ELLEN MILLER: Do you know where your congressman is? Probably not. And that’s because congressmen and senators don’t have to tell us.

But here’s what we do know: They’ve spent fewer days in session this year than any Congress since the so-called “Do Nothing” Congress of 1948. Now, technically, lawmakers work for us to the tune of about $162,000 a year, plus pensions and health care benefits far more generous than we get.

Lawmakers get three times more than the annual median income for a household, according to the U.S. Census. At the same time, more than 60 percent of us have to fill out timesheets or punch in and out of work because our bosses hold us accountable for our time.

Corporations may contribute millions to congressional campaigns, but we taxpayers cut lawmakers’ paychecks. Maybe they’d spend more time on the peoples’ work if they knew they had to punch a clock like so many of us do.

Every Congressional office prints a daily schedule for their member. It would take all of five minutes — maybe less — to post that schedule online for all of us to see.

No doubt that schedule includes committee sessions, meetings with constituents and lobbyists, and fundraisers. But whatever it says, we have a right to know. And lawmakers — as our elected representatives — have an obligation to tell us.

In our nation’s history, it has always taken public pressure to get politicians to be more open. They never wanted to have to disclose their campaign funding, but we forced them to. They never wanted to reveal gifts and junkets they receive, but we forced them to do that too.

No doubt, with pressure, we can get our elected representatives to tell us what they do all day.

This isn’t just about changing the culture of Washington. It’s about changing the culture of citizenship. And in the age of the Internet, it’s an easy thing to do.

We have the power to change how Washington works. We just have to exercise it.

BOB MOON: Ellen Miller directs the non-profit Sunlight Foundation.

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