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TIP SHEET: HOW TO BE A TRANSPARENCY WATCHDOG

Fed up with red tape and closed-off records? Sick of government secrecy?

Get ready for Sunshine Week, an annual drive towards transparency and open government, which raises awareness of ways citizens and media can access public information. As one of many journalism and non-profit organizations participating in Sunshine Week, Watchdog Wire is here to help you dig deeper into waste, fraud, and abuse in your local and state government. We want to hear your stories about transparency accountability, and whatever you may uncover along the way.

During Sunshine Week, as always, you can email us at info@watchdogwire.com if you have any questions about the transparency resources at your fingertips, or ways that you can investigate government.

Here are some of the best ways you can promote government accountability through open records, and some other fun ways to shine a light on government waste.

Tip #1: Figure out FOIA 弄清楚信息自由法

FOIA–that’s short for Freedom of Information Act–requests are at the heart and soul of investigative journalism and government accountability. The Federal law requires that when it comes to public records, the government has to do the work for you–that is, they need to locate any record you request and pass it along to you, free of charge. The tricky part for you is making your request specific enough for the government to properly answer it. This means addressing your request to the proper department, and asking for exactly what you need–so that the government can’t give you only part of what you requested and redact the rest.

Fortunately, there’s the Free FOIA Letter Generator, which helps you create request letters in a format that works well for most government agencies. You can use the generator to request a politician’s public schedule, city council meeting notes, public salaries and pensions, arrest and courtroom records, roll call votes for bills in the legislature, you name it–if it’s in the public record, you have the right to know.

Tip #2: Money-tracking tools are your friends 金錢流向跟踪工具是你的朋友

Open Secrets and Follow The Money are two of the best tools a citizen journalist has at his or her disposal. These databases track every dollar that a politician raises from donors and PACs, and sort the information into easy-to-read tables. Open Secrets allows citizens to see not only who a politician has gotten money from, but from what industries–for example, did a Senator who is sponsoring a new prescription drugs bill take millions from Big Pharma? Are the legislators pushing energy taxes funded by the green lobby? Did your local congressman bring home some pork for a local business–right after the CEO threw a fundraiser for him?

Each of these small discoveries you can make on a site like Open Secrets makes for a great story, and combined, these stories hold politicians accountable when their finances get murky. For example, the sad saga of Sen. Bob Menendez and his Dominican dalliances was fueled by donor information readily available on the Internet.

Tip #3: Check the visitor logs and daily schedules 檢查訪問者日誌和日常安排

President Obama delivered on one of his campaign promises by making the White House calendar part of the public record. This means that citizens now have access to the log of every meeting Obama has held, and every guest he has received at the White House. And this has made for some interesting stories about who has the President’s ear–and who doesn’t.

Most states and many localities have similar open records laws for their executives’ schedules, which means you can make a public record request to see who your governor is meeting for brunch and what trips he or she is taking at the state’s expense. Check the list of visitors to the governor’s office against the names of major donors from Follow the Money–it’s legal for politicians to give their close friends and supporters private audiences and tours, but it’s ethically murky if these people are weighing in too heavily on how taxpayer money is spent.

Your mayor or county executive should also be meeting regularly with citizens and community groups to keep a close read on the public’s pulse. If these events don’t show up on their calendar–and meetings with special interest groups or numerous trips out of town do–it’s a good sign that this politician has fallen out of touch. And that’s a great starting point for a story.

Tip #4: Figure out if the stimulus actually helped anyone in your area 找出,如河在您的地區實際受惠的任何人

You’ve probably seen the large green signs on the side of a highway in your area: “This project funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.” Usually, there are a few stray orange traffic cones littered around these signs. If you’re lucky, there might be a ditch or two, or perhaps a new stretch of pavement on the road.

But what did the Recovery Act–or the stimulus, as most people call it–actually do for you and your community? Start at Recovery.gov, the federal government’s website for documenting how stimulus money was spent. Launched as part of the Obama Administration’s Open Government Initiative, Recovery.gov allows you to search for projects by congressional district, and includes the cost of each project. (Note that most congressional districts changed in January as a result of the census. You can look up yours here.)

Once you’ve found projects in your area, take a road trip to see how much progress has been made on the project, and how well the money has been spent. Be sure to bring your camera to document visible progress on the project. You may want to do some additional digging to see what companies and unions were involved in the project and how they were selected to receive stimulus money. If Recovery.gov says money went to a project that doesn’t seem to exist, that’s a great story, and it would be an even better one if you can track down where the money really went!

Tip #5: Learn how Obamacare will affect your state 了解 Obamacare 將如何影響 各州

President Obama’s health law passed through Congress so hastily and clouded in secrecy that lawmakers didn’t have a chance to read the bill, much less citizens. So it’s no surprise that parts of the law are well, a surprise, including the long list of regulations on what constitutes “acceptable” insurance that was released only last month.

If you remember the “Louisiana Purchase,” you know that all states are not treated equally under Obamacare, and it’s worth checking out how your state will be affected. Start by looking at your state legislature’s website: is there a bill pending to set up an Obamacare exchange, or to expand Medicaid, as the bill authorizes states to do? You can also research the number of uninsured people in your state, and compare that to the number of uninsured the day before Obama signed the bill into law.

Tip #6: Watch the pensions 注意養老金

Many communities are buckling under the weight of contracts with public employees and their unions, but the salaries aren’t the problem. It’s the pensions, a concept that is quickly becoming outdated in the private sector which continues to pay state employees at a significant rate (often 80% of their final salary or more) from their retirement to their death, and sometimes beyond. These pensions are promises made in another era, and it is very difficult for states to avoid paying them, even when budgets are stretched to the limit and modern investing is making pensions obsolete.

And to make matters worse, many state workers are collecting a pension from one job, while pulling a full-time salary from another! This practice is called “double-dipping,” and generally happens when a longtime state employee “retires” from a job in his or her 50′s to take an even better-paying state job. This practice is rampant in New Jersey, where many members of Gov. Chris Christie’s administration double- and even triple-dip, but it goes on in other states as well.

To track pension abuse, you’ll need to keep your ear to the ground for rumblings that a local elected official or state worker is gaming the system. Then, use FOIA to request records of their salary and benefits to see how much of your money they’re taking in each year.

Tip #7: Give a shout-out to transparency heroes 大聲表楊 為 要求政府透明出力的 英雄

Is there someone in your community who has made a difference in opening up government or holding elected officials accountable? Maybe a blogger, or a grassroots leader, or someone who writes letters to the editor of the local newspaper. We’re looking for local transparency heroes at Watchdog Wire, and we’d love to hear about yours. So if you know someone who’s filed a FOIA request, or asked some tough questions at a town hall, or has done some sleuth work and uncovered some fraud, we want to hear about them–and maybe even feature them as our Citizen of the Month. You can also nominate them for the Franklin Center’s Breitbart Awards, given to the citizen activist who embodies the spirit and mission of Andrew Breitbart.

Tip #8: Join our Sunshine Week tweet-up with Open Secrets on Wednesday, March 13 at noon ET 加入我們的陽光週 鳴叫 公開的秘密

We are hosting a tweet-up during Sunshine Week focused on #openrecords, #FOIA, and #transparency. Our special guest will be Sheila Krumholz ( @OpenSecretsDC), the Executive Director of OpenSecrets.org! We hope you will join the conversation using the hash tag #WDWTU (Watchdog Wire Tweet Up).

If you have ideas for stories, suggestions on other ways to promote transparency, or just some questions on how all of this works, shoot us an email (info@watchdogwire.com). We’d love to hear your plans on how to shine a light on government abuse.

提示單:如何成為 政府透明的 看門狗

厭倦了繁文縟節和封閉的記錄?病態的政府秘密?

準備好陽光週,每年的行駛方向的透明度和開放的政府,這引起了市民的方式和媒體的認識都可以訪問的公共信息。由於參加陽光星期許多新聞和非營利組織之一,看門狗線是在這裡幫助你深入挖掘浪費,欺詐和濫用在當地和州政府。我們希望聽到您關於透明度的問責,以及任何你可能會沿途發現的故事。

在陽光星期,一如既往,你可以在info@watchdogwire.com給我們發電子郵件,如果您有關於透明度的資源在您的指尖,或方法,你可以調查政府的任何問題。

下面是一些你可以通過公開的記錄推動政府問責制的最佳方式,以及其他一些有趣的方式來照亮一盞燈上的政府浪費。

提示# 1 :弄清楚信息自由法

信息自由法,這是對短信息自由法案,要求是在調查性新聞報導和政府問責制的心臟和靈魂。聯邦法律規定,當涉及到公共記錄,政府必須做的工作為你,也就是說,他們需要找到您請求的任何記錄,並把它傳遞給你,免費的。最棘手的部分為你正在你的要求不夠具體,為政府正確地回答這個問題。這意味著處理您的請求到適當的部門,並要求正是你需要的,因此,政府不能給你您的請求的一部分,並纂休息。

幸運的是,還有的免費信息自由法信發電機,它可以幫助您在這適用於大多數政府機構的格式創建請求的信件。您可以使用發電機來請求一個政治家的公開日程,市議會會議記錄,公開工資和養老金,逮捕和法庭記錄,唱名表決的法案在議會,你的名字,如果是在公共記錄,你有知情權。

提示# 2 :金錢流向跟踪工具是你的朋友

公開的秘密,並按照錢是兩個公民記者已經在他或她的處置的最佳工具。這些數據庫跟踪每一個政客從捐助者和PAC引發美元,而對信息進行排序成易於閱讀的表。公開的秘密可以讓市民看到的不僅是誰的政治家已經從得到的錢,但是從行業 - 例如,沒有一個參議員誰是贊助一個新的處方藥法案採取數百萬大型製藥公司?正在推動能源稅立法會議員經費由綠色遊說?難道您當地的國會議員首席執行官後帶回家一些豬肉為當地業務右扔了募捐給他嗎?

所有這些小的發現可以使像公開的秘密網站使一個偉大的故事,並結合,這些故事抱負責的政治家,當他們的財政狀況得到明朗。例如,參議員鮑勃·梅嫩德斯和他的多明尼加調情的悲哀傳奇是因為人們在互聯網上現成的捐助者的信息。

提示# 3:檢查訪問者日誌和日常安排

通過使公共記錄的白宮日曆部分對他的競選承諾1美國總統奧巴馬發表。這意味著,市民現在可以訪問日誌每次會議奧巴馬舉行的,他已經在白宮接受每一位客人。這令一些關於誰擁有總統的耳朵,誰不有趣的故事。

大多數州和許多地方都有類似的開放式記錄法為他們的高管的日程安排,這意味著你可以做一個公共記錄的要求,看看誰是你的省長是會議的早午餐,什麼行程,他或她正在為國家的犧牲。檢查遊客的列表兌主要捐助者從跟隨名州長辦公室的錢,這是合法的政治家給自己的親密的朋友和支持者私人觀眾和旅遊,但它的道德陰暗的,如果這些人在稱重太重怎麼納稅人的錢是花。

你的市長或縣長也應定期與公民和社會團體舉行會議,密切讀對市民的脈搏。如果這些事件對他們的日曆和會議不顯示與特殊利益集團或多次前往出城做,這是一個好兆頭,這位政治家已經下降脫節。那是一個偉大的起點的故事。

提示# 4 :找出,如河在您的地區實際受惠的任何人

你可能已經看到在您所在地區的高速公路旁的大型綠色招牌: “這個項目由美國復甦與再投資法案提供資金。 ”通常情況下,大約有這些跡象散落了幾個流浪的橙色交通錐。如果你幸運的話,有可能是一個或兩個溝,或者一個新的舒展路面的道路上。

但是做了復甦法案或刺激,因為大多數人把它叫做 - 真正做到為你和你的社區?開始在Recovery.gov ,聯邦政府的網站記錄金錢的刺激是如何花了。推出作為奧巴馬政府的開放的政府倡議的一部分, Recovery.gov允許你搜索由國會選區的項目,包括每個項目的成本。 (注意,大多數國會選區一月改變普查的結果,你可以看看你在這裡。 )

一旦你找到的項目在您的地區,採取的客場之旅,看看有多少已經取得進展的項目,如何完善,錢已經花了。一定要帶上你的相機來記錄對項目取得明顯進展。你可能需要做一些額外的挖掘,看看哪些公司和工會都參與了這個項目,他們是如何被挑選接受刺激資金。如果Recovery.gov說錢去似乎並不存在一個項目,這是一個偉大的故事,這將是一個更好的,如果你能追查這些錢真的去了!

提示# 5 :了解 Obamacare 將如何影響 各州

奧巴馬總統的醫療法通過國會如此匆忙和雲的秘密,立法者沒有機會讀的法案,更談不上公民。因此,毫不奇怪,法律的部分很輕鬆,一個驚喜,包括對什麼構成的是上個月才發布的“可接受”的保險法規的長長的名單。

如果你還記得“路易斯安那購買, ”你知道,所有的國家都沒有的Obamacare下同等對待,這是值得檢查出如何你的國家將受到影響。先來看看你的國家議會的網站:是有一個懸而未決的法案設立的Obamacare交換,或擴大醫療補助,因為該法案授權國家也這樣做?您還可以研究在你的國家沒有保險的人的數量,和比較,為沒有保險之前,奧巴馬簽署該法案成為法律,這一天的數量。

提示# 6 :注意養老金

許多社區都與公共部門僱員和他們的工會合同的重壓下彎曲,但薪水不是問題。這是養老金,一個概念,正迅速成為過時的私營機構繼續從自己的退休工資國家工作人員以顯著率(通常80 %的最終薪金或以上) ,以自己的死,有時超越。這些養老金是在另一個時代作出的承諾,這是非常困難的狀態,以避免支付他們,即使預算被拉伸到了極限,現代投資是使養老金過時。

而更糟糕的是,許多國家的工人從一個工作收集的退休金,而從另外一個拉一個全職的薪水!這種做法被稱為“兩面沾光” ,一般發生在一個長期的州僱員“退休”的工作在他或她的50年代採取一個更好的高薪工作狀態。這種做法是猖獗在新澤西州,在那裡州長克里斯·克里斯蒂的管理雙重,甚至三重浸的許多成員,但它會在其他國家也是如此。

要跟踪退休金虐待,你需要保持你的耳朵在地上的傳言,一個地方民選官員或國家工作人員的遊戲系統。然後,利用信息自由法的要求,他們的薪酬和福利的記錄,看看他們是如何你的錢的多少採取每年。

提示# 7 :大聲表楊 為 要求政府透明出力的 英雄

有沒有人在你的社區誰作出了區別在開放政府或控股民選官員問責?也許一個博客,或者一個基層領導者,或某人誰寫的信給當地報紙的編輯。我們正在尋找當地的透明度英雄在看門狗線,我們很樂意聽到你的。所以,如果你知道誰提起了信息自由法要求,或問一些尖銳的問題在市政廳,或者已經做了一些偵探工作,並發現了一些欺詐的人,我們希望聽到關於他們,甚至可能擁有他們是我們本月的公民。您也可以提名他們的富蘭克林中心的布賴特巴特獎,給予公民活動家誰體現了安德魯布賴特巴特的精神和使命。

提示# 8 :加入我們的陽光週鳴叫了公開的秘密在2009年3月13日中午ET

我們在陽光周刊舉辦的鳴叫了專注於# openrecords ,信息自由法#和#透明度。我們的特邀嘉賓將是希拉克魯姆霍爾茨( @ OpenSecretsDC ) , OpenSecrets.org執行主任!我們希望你會使用散列標籤# WDWTU (看門狗線推文上)加入對話。

如果你有想法的故事,在其他方面提高透明度,或只是如何讓這一切工作的幾個問題的建議,拍我們發一個電子郵件( info@watchdogwire.com ) 。我們很樂意聽到有關如何照亮一盞燈對政府濫用你的計劃。



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