Fundamentally, the U.S. Congress has a systemic bias towards secrecy that tends to get reinforced as time goes on. Government secrecy, political partisanship, and public disillusionment feed off each other in a cycle that protects the status quo and resistants reform. It goes something like this:
Petty Partisanship — The party in the majority that controls the agenda in Congress knows that they stand to benefit by the limited accountability afforded them by the status-quo in congressional data distribution.
Secrecy — The lack of timely and complete public disclosure of congressional data means that the public only ever gets a partial view of what Congress is really doing.
Corruption — Where there are limitations on oversight, bad actors in Congress exploit the system to pass legislation that unfairly benefits their special-interest allies.
Anger and Disillusionment — Journalists manage to reveal some of the corruption in Congress, and resentment of the system grows. Congressional approval is at an all-time low.
Limited Public Engagement — Without the resources to effect the process, people stop paying attention to Congress, stop communicating with their Sens. and Reps., and stop voting. Divisive national party politics dominate.
Broken Democracy — Congress becomes more and more beholden to special interests and campaign funders. We now have a system that benefits the few at the expense of the many.
The great irony in all of this is that the website Congress has put together to release information to the public, THOMAS, is named after the greatest proponent of participatory politics this country has ever had — Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson believed that it was government’s job to protect individual citizens from falling under the power of a select group of economically powerful institutions. Yet the system that now bares his name has become a ploy for maintaining an illusion of transparency while ensuring that access to information (read: power) is limited to those with the resources to secure special access.
Opening up bulk access to public data on Congress is a simple and common-sense action Congress could take right now that would be an historic achievemnt for advancing democracy and cleaning up our political system. The recommendations put forward by our colleagues at the Sunlight Foundation are easily achievable within a relatively short time frame and with little finnancial investment. If the House leadership is serious about opening up Washington, this must be their litmus test. Let this be the crowning bipartisan achievement of this otherwise gridlocked session of Congress. It just takes a few members of Congress to step up, be bold, and take on leadership for this cause.
(content via Donny Shaw on opencongress.org, full article here