Tag Archives: rep. doolittle

Congressional Transparency on a Map

Cross posted from Sunlight Foundation

“We can never understand [a House member’s] Washington activity without also understating his perception of his various constituencies and the home style he uses to cultivate their support…” states Richard Fenno in Home Style: House Members in Their Districts. Fenno understands that the work of members of Congress is more than committee meetings and votes but is also people they meet with from the district. The work in the district builds trust constituents need to send them to Washington and to accept the decisions they make there. Fenno’s makes the point that the work of lawmakers done in the district is not an exhibition but the yang to Washington’s Ying.

This trust that lawmakers create in the district extends to who they meet with in Washington. The Punch Clock motto has always been “Members of Congress work for us, and we should know what they do every day.” Fenno made this point a different way, “Trust is, however, a fragile relationship. It is not an overnight or one-time thing. It is hard to win; and it must be constantly renewed and rewon. ”

In this spirit, Sunlight has decided to help out by creating a trust-building tool. This tool, the Punch Clock Map, is a Google map mashup with corresponding RSS feeds that lets citizens see for themselves just how elected officials spend their time and how they serve their district’s needs.

Punch Clock Map provides a visual representation of the meetings detailed by the eight members of Congress who post their daily schedules online. Currently, that includes: Sen. Max Baucus,? Rep. Kathy Castor,? Rep. John Doolittle,? Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand,? Sen. Bill Nelson,? Rep. Denny Rehberg,? Rep. Jan Schakowsky? and Sen. Jon Tester.? (As Rep. Alcee Hastings? posts an abridged weekly schedule, his is not included.)

To let citizens monitor how their elected officials address their district’s needs, the maps mark the home-base location of the organization or individual who met with the lawmaker, not where the meeting occurred. If the lawmaker’s schedule provides a location, organization or individual (who can be easily identified), those meetings are plotted on the map. (The map does not include internal business meetings, committee hearings, meetings with constituents without easily identifiable addresses or location and meetings with other current members of Congress.)

The Punch Clock Map is an extension of the Punch Clock Campaign, an initiative the Sunlight Foundation began in 2006, which asked all candidates for congressional office – challengers and incumbents – to promise, if elected, to post their daily schedules on the Internet. Inspired by the 60 percent of Americans who ‘punch a clock’ to account for their time at work, Sunlight asked why members of Congress should not also account for their time to their employers: the citizens they represent.

Building trust is an essential part of the representative – constituent relationship. Posting a schedule helps maintain the trust that lawmakers go through such efforts to maintain and it also helps instill trust in the constituents who are always looking for ways to not trust their lawmakers.

Disclaimer: I am the outreach coordinator for the Sunlight Foundation