Lazyweb Request: theyworkforyou.com for the US

I’m a big fan of transparency, and one of the areas we need it most is in the workings of government. Is there anything like the UK’s theyworkforyou.com for the US? There really ought to be. This site lets you search the speeches made by Members of Parliament, so you can see what they have been up to. Here in the US, you can search the congressional record, but it’s the easy linkage of people to positions that makes theyworkforyou.com so interesting.

(While I’m at it, I’m wondering if fundrace.org, Eyebeam‘s site that provides transparency into campaign finance, is going to be brought live again for the 2006 elections, or whether it was a one-time stunt.)

tags:
  • http://jystewart.net/ James Stewart

    govtrack.us does some parsing of the Congressional Record, and there’s a project underway at http://mycongress.org/ to implement something with similar functionality to theyworkforyou.com.

  • http://www.ambiguous.org quinn

    FWIW, I’ve been nagging Danny and the others to do something like this for the US for years, as well as something like faxyourmp. Part of the problem is getting the data to the right people in the right format. I’ve been told by a senate IT person that the records are a mess of legacy formats, but I have a hard time believing something can’t be massaged into shape, even out of the existing data… there’s apparently tons more that never makes it online at all. What we need here is a .gov web api- then you’ll see quite a few theyworkforyou’s come up…

  • jeff

    There’s a similar site for Canadians at http://www.howdtheyvote.ca/. The content doesn’t seem to be quite as complete as the the UK one, but I have used it a number of times to find out more about what my MP is (or isn’t) doing during the legislative session.

  • http://blog.freelancing-gods.com Pat Allan

    In a similar vein, does anyone know of an Australia equivalent?

    I’ve been considering coding something up like that – just gotta find the time.

  • http://cheerleader.yoz.com/ Yoz

    The work required to clone TWFY for different countries got a lot smaller after the source was released. Take a look, and join the mailing list if you’re interested.

  • mikeh

    Project Vote Smart is the most comprehensive attempt I’ve seen.

  • http://www.michaelbernstein.com michael bernstein

    You might want to check out the related site Opensecrets.org.

  • http://www.mysociety.org Tom Steinberg

    mySociety, which now runs TheyWorkForYou , is holding a call for proposals for new sites in the same tradition. If your idea is really good and of a feasable cost, we’ll build it.

  • http://weblogs.macromedia.com/jd John Dowdell

    Last few years I’ve been using transcripts from defenselink.mil and whitehouse.gov, to find out what people actually said, after they were quoted for a line or so in the newspapers. Seems like it would be possible for a third-party search engine to index such public sources…?

    For tracing influence, I’m not sure… cash donations have an easy metric to apply, but getting a story published or squashed is harder to measure, harder to maker rules for.

  • http://www.lazygov.org mark simpkins

    I had a few emails about US (and Canadian) versions of some of the tools that I helped put together in the wake of the success of TheyWork… though nothing seems to have happened much.

    I am re-starting consultationprocess.org which should hold / enable conversation around governement consultations (what is the US equivalent?) and of course all the work there will be open source.

    And I am all for helping build transparency tools for whatever country (and in fact Non-Governmental entity, UN tracking, corporation tracking).

    Thats what lazygov.org is for, building stuff becuase they haven’t.

    mark.

  • Paul Roberts

    I believe tveyes.com makes broadcast video and audio content searchable by keyword, etc. One of the media they cover must certainly be CSpan. If so, any speech given on the House/Senate floor that is covered by CSpan can be found by any text-like search on tveyes.com. It appears to be subscription based, however. Please note that I have not actually used this service – it was mentioned at the Computers in Libraries 2006 conference.

  • http://josh-peters.name/blog Josh Peters

    I’ve been enjoying GovTrack (http://www.govtrack.us/)

    It’s got the advantage of being ugly in design, which automatically makes it more trustworthy ;)

  • Danny O'Brien

    GovTrack.us does a lot of the heavy-lifting, in that it scrapes and parses a lot of the legislative data, then provides it for reuse – http://www.govtrack.us/source.xpd .

    There’s an interesting reversal in the holes in UK and US political net infrastructure. TheyWorkForYou.com is a fantastic model for the records of legislative proceedings, but the UK lacks a decent system (either official or overlaid) for tracking and monitoring changes in legislation. THOMAS is rather good at letting you monitor legislation as it runs through Congress, but the parsing of the Congressional Record, as you notice, stinks.

    I’d say that a fair bit of that difference comes from where the center of gravity of the political system is perceived to lie. In the UK, the government introduces almost all legislation, and it often passes with very little in the way of amendment. What MPs say is often viewed as significant, even when (perhaps especially when) it is not connected to the passing of a law — Prime Minister’s question time, for instance.

    In the US, the action is perceived to be mostly in the legislation. I don’t know what the causality is though: perhaps if we introduced tools that fought against the accepted POV, we would start to change how politicians and the media approached the topic.

    Yet another viewpoint is by legislator vote. There’s a lot of tracking of this in the US, but I admit I haven’t seen a site that does it quite as well as http://www.publicwhip.org.uk/