House Office release Office Expense Reports

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In a new (and welcomed) form of disclosure, House members have released a huge document dump containing office expenditures for all 435 representatives. Sunlight will be doing a distributed research project of some sort to sift through the data, but I wanted to get out the info on New Mexico’s congressional delegation. For the following charts, the column on the right is quarterly, while the column on the left if YTD (though which quarter is kinda confusing). Click for larger versions.

First up, Rep. Martin Heinrich. His report can be found in the second PDF, beginning on page 343. Here’s the summary:

Martin Heinrich Expense Report 2009

Next up is Rep. Harry Teague. His report is located on the third PDF, beginning on page 277:

Harry Teague Expense Report 2009

Finally, here’s Rep. Ben Lujan. His report is in the second PDF, starting on page 337. His summary:

Ben Ray Lujan Expense Report 2009
Looks like Rep. Teague spent the most this quarter and YTD, almost cracking the $1 million mark for 2009 spending just more than $900,000 thus far.

Each member has about 5-6 pages of information, where the above info is broken down into details (like reimbursements for taxi rides and contracts for technology services), so check through and see if there’s anything interesting. Also, while these reports are a great asset and step toward transparency, they could be better. Keep an eye on the Sunlight Foundation blog for more and to see how you can help.

Update: To answer the obvious question, I included images because I literally couldn’t copy and paste just the sections I wanted. That’s how poorly structured these were (at least for me).

Update 2: Though Rep. Teague did spend the most among his peers in New Mexico, he didn’t really come close to spending $1 million (though Rep. Heinrich did). Also, Teague has been disclosing his office expenditures online all year long. You can see those reports here (on Teague’s nicely detailed Transparent Government page). After doing some searching on the sites for Reps. Heinrich and Lujan, I couldn’t find a similar page, nor could I locate office disclosures for past quarters.

So, kudos to Rep. Teague for being ahead of the curve.

More on the Ensign scandal

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As you likely know, Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) admitted yesterday to an extramarital affair, and has since resigned from his leadership position with the Senate Republican Conference. On its face, the scandal is bad enough for the Ensign: he admitted to an affair with the wife of one of his staffers. As Donny wrote earlier, Ensign’s chances of advancing within the Republican Party appear to be slim.

But there’s more to the story than the affair. Several reports surfaced today regarding the salary Ensign paid Douglas Hampton (the staffer whose wife was involved in the affair). Our colleague Paul Blumenthal delved deeper into the money angle at the Sunlight Foundation blog, highlighting some of the problems with Senate salary disclosures. He also spent some time updating the OpenCongress Wiki profile of Ensign about the scandal.

We’ll continue to keep an eye on the situation, but if you see something that we’ve missed you can always add the information yourself through the OpenCongress Wiki.

Shorter Joe Monahan

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“Journalists who also blog shouldn’t criticize me because I’m right and they’re wrong. So go look at all the crazy stuff they’re trying to pull.” Or something like that (scroll down to the bottom).

Oh, and to his assertion that his is “the most respected, most quoted and most read political web site in New Mexico,” here’s this:

Sure, right now his site is on top (likely because all the other blogs in the state are linking to his whining about those scary “progressive bloggers” and “quasi-secret, out-of-state nonprofit ventures.” But back during the election, you can see it was Matt at NMFBIHOP who was pulling in the big numbers. Heck, if you toss in the SF Reporter and and the NM Independent (two more of his recent targets) you get this:

If you really want to get a sense of the man, check out his Twitter stream:

I’ve got two bloggers stalking me. One makes pancakes–NMFBIHOP–The other–Beltway Baca–makes crazy!

Leave it to Joe to respond to legitimate criticism with actual name-calling. It just doesn’t get any more juvenile than this. ((Not to mention the hypocrisy: this is somebody who calls sources — in New Mexico of all places — alligators.)) Monahan is the worst of bloggers: he doesn’t link to anybody else in the state, even when responding to direct criticism, robbing his readers of even more context. He also doesn’t allow direct comments, preventing readers from responding in the light of day. Instead, he filters criticism and praise alike, publishing only the bits and pieces that advance his own agenda.

His attacks on Heath Haussamen are even more ludicrous: Heath is a guy who has established not only a comments policy, but has an entire section on his own ethics responsibilities. Long before criticizing Monahan for his use of anonymous sources, Heath had a clear policy in place for when he would use un-named sources. Monahan, on the other hand, relies on them almost entirely, and there’s no rhyme or reason.

Oh, and one last thing Joe: it’s pretty easy to nail an “exclusive” if you’re willing to publish anything and everything that pops into your inbox.

For more on the whole affair, start where everybody else did at m-pyre, then check out Matt and Julia.

New Mexico legislature busting out the playbook

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I’ve been following a bit of the discourse over at Democracy for New Mexico regarding the fight to pass comprehensive meaningful as least some sort of ethics legislation this session. And the thing I’ve noticed most is how much New Mexico’s lawmakers are looking to national politicians for ways to fight reform. First, because lawmakers don’t like the good work non-profit groups are doing exposing their voting records, they’re trying to poison attempts to reform campaign finance laws by attaching provisions that would force those non-profits to reveal their donors. ((If the non-profits are operating illegally, there are avenues in place to investigate them and enforce the laws. New Mexico lawmakers should not be waging a personal war on non-profits, however, that are trying to inform he public about the legislative process.))

Now, on the face of it, this is the exact same tactic being used by Republicans in the U.S. Senate to thwart a proposed reform of the way Senate candidates file campaign finance reports (full disclosure, I’m a Sunlight Foundation employee and this is one of our big issues).

But beyond that, if New Mexico lawmakers are so concerned about their voting records being made public, they should change the way they’re voting! In addition, didn’t they sign up for this job? If New Mexico state senators don’t want to be in the public eye, if they don’t want their actions to be scrutinized, they’re in the wrong business.

That’s what’s so disheartening about Barb’s post at DFNM about Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez. This guy went out and told his colleagues that the boogey man the Loch Ness Monster aliens from outer space a blogger had said mean things about the senators. And he used that as justification to oppose a revolving door lobbying reform bill (see Jim Baca for more on this bill). That sort of thing is straight out the playbook of national politicians (even President Obama has stooped to discounting bloggers recently).

Now, I know I’ve been slacking a bit on the blogging front lately (hey, new job and all) but I hope that the few of you out in New Mexico still reading this will call your senators (especially you folks who can call Sen. Howie Morales) and tell them to adopt some meaningful reforms. Also, tell your friends to call! It’s not a big list, and they’re not hard reforms:

  1. Require electronic disclosure of campaign finance reports so people know who is giving money in a timely fashion.
  2. Enact a limit on the amount of money donors can give to individual candidates. In a recession like this one, it’s even harder for the little guy to make his voice heard with his wallet, while the big corporations, special interests and fat cats can still line the campaign pockets for lawmakers. This is a practice that should be reined in, and it’s a shame New Mexico still hasn’t done it.
  3. Enact the revolving door law, which would prevent former lawmakers from lobbying their former colleagues for one year after they leave office. This should be a no-brainer, but thanks to Sen. Sanchez the legislation was voted down today.
  4. Open up the legislative process by streaming committee meetings and floor sessions online. New Mexico may not have a large population, but its geographic size is prohibitive to not just citizens but also for journalists trying to cover the legislative sessions.

There are probably more, but that’s a really, really good start. With all the ethics problems plaguing the state lately, however, I’d think it would be an easy task to get New Mexico lawmakers to become open and transparent. Looks like they’re going to fight it tooth and nail.

At least some people still care

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Germans, recently privy to news that Europe’s biggest telecommunications firm was illegally wiretapping phone calls, are recalling what life was like when East Germany’s secret police were still around:

Experts say sophisticated modern methods — involving digital data, computers and mobile phones — are a far cry from the days of the Stasi who used steaming devices to open envelopes as well as magnetic microphones and typewriters.

“But there are similarities. There is the same lack of scruples over looking into peoples’ lives — the possibility of obtaining and using the information on people,” said Staadt.

The Stasi ran a notoriously effective network of domestic and foreign agents to quash dissent and guard the Berlin Wall against would-be escapees.

Remember, Sen. John McCain wants to make sure telecom companies here in America are protected from lawsuits regarding their illegal eavesdropping – and he’s ready to keep spying if he’s elected president.

Reuters story via Laura Rozen.

Senate Ethics Committee wrist slaps Domenici

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Via TPM. Here’s the Associated Press version:

Retiring Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., created an appearance of impropriety when he called a federal prosecutor in New Mexico to inquire about the timing of corruption indictments, the Senate ethics committee said Thursday.

The committee criticized Domenici in a letter to the senator, but it recommended no punishment.

[…]

“The committee finds no substantial evidence to determine that you attempted to improperly influence an ongoing investigation,” the committee letter said.

“The committee does find that you should have known that a federal prosecutor receiving such a telephone call, coupled with an approaching election which may have turned on or been influenced by the prosecutor’s actions … created an appearance of impropriety that reflected unfavorably on the Senate.”

It looks like New Mexico’s senior senator is brushing the letter aside, and he’s heading on his way out anyway, but still, it’s interesting to see such strong language come out of the committee.