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Caught Our Eye items are posted daily. LegiStorm Pro subscribers have access to all posts a few hours before other users, and are also able to search the full Caught Our Eye archive. Log in as a LegiStorm Pro user or learn more about subscribing.

Politico runs a Hill staffer pay feature

Posted by LegiStorm on April 23, 2008

The newspaper Politico used our site to publish a story today about how Hill staffers often have to scrape by on their wages. Politico points out that for entry-level staffers, "living on the cheap is not a measure of frugality but a means of survival."

While some staffers, especially committee aides, command more than $150,000 a year, the competition for the entry-level jobs is such that it is a buyer's market.

But Politico may have understated the case. They said that after taxes, some staffers make only $25,000. Actually, our salary figures are gross figures before the removal of taxes and other deductions. And our data shows quite a few congressional aides make $25,000 or less before taxes. As Politico says, in an expensive town like Washington, $25,000 does not go nearly so far as in most of the rest of the country.

Subjects: Politico

Presidential tax returns added to LegiStorm

Posted by LegiStorm on April 18, 2008

We have added a small new feature to our site, which is the tax returns of the three main presidential candidates. While our mission has not expanded to cover the presidential race, we have their data because they are all U.S. senators. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has yet to release his tax filings, although he is expected to do so today. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) has not released her tax filing due in 2008 because she filed an extension. Instead, she released a statement with her expected income amounts from various sources.

You can find their tax forms on their personal financial disclosure pages, http://www.legistorm.com/memberdisclosure/76/Sen_Barack_Obama.html and http://www.legistorm.com/memberdisclosure/21/Sen_Hillary_Rodham_Clinton.html.

McCain's filings will be at http://www.legistorm.com/memberdisclosure/69/Sen_John_McCain.html when they become available.

Note that because these senators are of great public interest, we have also included more historical financial disclosure data for both the candidates and their staff.

 

UPDATE: McCain has released his tax returns from the past two years, which can be seen at the link above. The campaign's release regarding his returns is here.

 

Technorati Profile

The public speaks out about LegiStorm

Posted by LegiStorm on April 10, 2008

The public has spoken - and they appear to like what we are doing.

For several weeks we have been a bit beaten up. Congressional aides spoke of our site in sometimes vitriolic and, frankly, paranoid terms about how we invaded their privacy by publishing financial disclosures.

One staffer accused us of aiding the break-in of a home; others talked darkly about potential kidnappings and Russian gangsters. Many suggested lawsuits against us, at times for disclosing information that was already disclosed in the white pages delivered to homes and in Internet-searchable phone books. To be sure, there were some legitimate privacy issues raised but we have always believed the public right to know has trumped any privacy concerns that we have not already addressed.

When the story was a "local" one, confined to the congressional campus, we sensed the outrage about our publication of personal financial disclosures building to a level of hysteria - where the most absurd claims would be adopted as fact by an angry group of staffers. But the mood began to change dramatically yesterday when the Washington Post published a piece about how staffers were livid. NPR's All Things Considered ran an interview with LegiStorm founder Jock Friedly and American Public Media's Marketplace (also heard on many public radio stations nationwide) ran their own story. Salon and other publications joined in.

An encouraging thing happened: The broader public began to flood us with their private emails of encouragement. Dozens of others wrote complementary comments on our new blog. The Washington Times editorialized in favor of us.

We appreciate the support and we can assure you that we will continue to fight for all reasonable public disclosure measures while taking measures to protect staffer privacy where that does not damage the public's right to konw.

Hysteria over personal financial disclosures

Posted by LegiStorm on April 3, 2008

The House has worked itself up into hysteria over LegiStorm’s recent release of staffer personal financial disclosures. There are demands in Congress for a taxpayer-financed lawsuit against us. http://thehill.com/leading-the-news/aides-private-info-exposed-2008-04-02.html

One House staffer has even gone so far as to suggest that LegiStorm aided and abetted in the burglary of his house. This has gone too far.

We have a solution for the mess of the House’s own making. First, to be clear:

- The U.S. Congress wrote the law that requires disclosure of personal finances to aid in the fight against public corruption.

- Congressional staffers were the ones who voluntarily filed what they did in their personal financial disclosures. In a handful of disclosures, a tiny fraction of the total, staffers included unnecessary personal details like investment account numbers and children names. Their signature is the only detail that they now most complain about that is required.

- The Congress made these documents public. It did so after a one-month review process that concluded, apparently, that nothing was wrong with their disclosure.

- Neither the House nor the Senate require any form of identification to access this information. Anybody can access it without talking to a single person and by simply entering a fake name into a computer.

- We have voluntarily gone to significant lengths and costs already to scrub the most sensitive of information released due to staffer slipups and ethics committee oversight. This includes investment account numbers and Social Security numbers. We did so without delay.

- We have voluntarily provided various security measures such as user registration and authentication, a legal warning (one that is not present on two other heavily trafficked web sites that have for years provided member of Congress disclosures), and a human response system to make sure that automated bots cannot access the data.

All these measures by us that are not legally required present an enormous burden for us as a company that for all intents and purposes has no existing revenue stream (our advertising on our entire site brings in less than $10 a day despite the notion by some staffers that we are raking in lots of money from the public service of releasing this data free to all users). And now House chiefs of staff want us to review thousands of individual filings to redact more things that they voluntarily put into the public record and are in most cases readily available from other public sources, including the telephone book?

There are three ready solutions if the House is genuine about its desire to protect staffers.

1)  The House will make minor changes to the financial disclosure form so that the signature and address of staffers is disclosed only to the House and is not released publicly.

2)  The House will review these forms for inadvertent disclosures.

3)  The House should pay – only out-of-pocket costs, with no overhead or profit – for us to redact the past disclosures to their liking, assuming the redactions have no significant public disclosure consequences.

This solution would certainly save the taxpayers over the alternative of the House foolishly bringing the frivolous lawsuit that many chiefs of staff appear to demand.

LegiStorm's new blog

Posted by LegiStorm on April 2, 2008

Since we started, we at LegiStorm have had a lot of things we have wanted to tell our site users. We are a site primarily of data but the data can tell stories.

Take the story by Susan Crabtree in yesterday's The Hill newspaper, which uses our data to show that the campaign of a powerful member of Congress, Rep. Jack Murtha (D-Pa.), paid more than $2,000 for a rifle and other weapons paraphernalia. What makes it more interesting is that Murtha, a close confidant to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and appropriations subcommittee chairman, may have violated both House ethics rules and federal statute in converting them to personal use by giving them as a gift to an aide. And it took us no more than a few minutes to discover that his campaign had officially - and erroneously - claimed this gun as a campaign "advertising" expense. His office described this as a "clerical error". The chief of staff said he refunded the money to the campaign committee after The Hill asked about it.

All this was available through public records which told a compelling story. In fact, it was information from two sources that, when combined, made it so interesting.

A few weeks ago, Paul Singer of Roll Call wrote a story about a member of Congress and his chief of staff who made an eye-catching investment in a China-related business with someone who paid nearly $20,000 for them to go to China on so-called "officially connected travel" and donated to the congressman's campaign. It was a total coincidence that the day before we had launched a database of the personal financial disclosures of all congressional staffers, which would have, with our comprehensive database of privately financed congressional trips, highlighted this potential conflict of interest.

We hope this blog can illuminate some of our data. While we might highlight someone on one side of the aisle or another, we plan to continue the tradition of non-partisanship.

Besides drawing attention to interesting aspects of our data, we plan to use this space to illuminate our processes in providing this data, how others have usefully employed our site, and to alert users what new information products we have released or will release.

About Caught Our Eye

We spend a large part of our days looking at data. Documents often come in by the dozens and hundreds. And while most are boring - how interesting can staring at a phone directory or salary records be, for example? - we find daily reasons for interest, amusement or even concern packed in the documents. So we are launching a new running feature that we call "Caught our Eye."

Longer than tweets but shorter than most blog posts, Caught our Eye items will bring back the interest in reviewing documents and researching people. Some items might bring hard, breaking news. Others will raise eyebrows and lead some into further inquiry. Others might be good for a joke or two around the water cooler. All will enlighten about the people or workings of Capitol Hill.

Caught our Eye items will be published each morning for LegiStorm Pro subscribers. Non-Pro site users will be able to receive the news items a few hours later. In addition to having immediate access to the news, LegiStorm Pro users will have a handy way to search and browse all past items.