Video: Congress exposed

By Senior producer
msnbc.com
updated 10/13/2006 10:06:21 AM ET 2006-10-13T14:06:21
COMMENTARY

A group called Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, just published a list of the 20 most corrupt members of Congress.

Mark Foley didn’t make that list, despite CREW’s reported role in forwarding those nasty e-mails to the FBI this summer.  The list isn’t about sex scandals.  It’s about lapses in financial ethics, a far more pervasive illness in D.C. than attraction to underage pages.

But if you compared column space and television minutes spent on GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his assorted band of elected friends with the coverage of Mark Foley, you wouldn’t get that impression.

While I doubt that will change for cable television, it is certainly changing on the Internet.  There is a growing, bipartisan movement from major blogs and sites like Daily Kos and Red State calling for fiscal accountability from Congress and full digital disclosure of campaign contributions.

For example, CREW’s list of bad guys hits both sides of the aisle.

Montana Republican Sen. Conrad Burns is at the top of the list.  The report says that 42% of his war chest comes from clients of Jack Abramoff and that he has received more money from dealings with the controversial lobbyist than any other member of Congress.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is high up there, too, for different reasons.  There are allegations that he sold shares of the healthcare company HCA, which his brother Tom runs, based on insider information.  Frist has denied insider trading, saying that the shares were part of a blind trust, meaning he did not specifically know about the sale.  Regardless, that will dog him should he run in 2008.

Have no fear, Republicans.  There are Democrats on the list, too.

Like West Virginia’s Rep. Alan Mollohan, who the report says took an all expense paid trip with his wife to Spain.  It was compliments of a group of contractors that later received $250 million dollars in earmarked funds.

Besides CREW there are plenty of Internet groups in on the action.

Opensecrets.org lets you track where all campaign contributions come from and go to.  You can enter your zip code and get the information for your local congressman.

Another one is Cleanupwashington.org.  That site tracks sources of campaign money in California and nine other states.  Incidentally, California is home to five of CREW’s 20 worst.

All this blogging is certainly getting the attention of the Beltway Boys.  Senators Russ Feingold and Richard Lugar have both provided easy links on their websites to disclosures of all contributions of $200 or more.  The goal is to get that kind of disclosure from all elected officials.

And, unlike the usual poliblogging, this is truly bipartisan and about policing your own porch first.

Daily Kos, a liberal blog, posted a list of Democrats who need to get with the program and make their funding sources public and digitally available.  Republican sites have done the same.

A blogger at Kos with the screen name Adam B wrote, “There is not much on which the left and right blogospheres agree, except, perhaps, on the ability of the Internet itself to transform politics.”

We’ll see in November just how big the Web’s impact will be.

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