With that in mind, if Treasury is so bad at implementing the parts of Obamacare for which it is responsible, and given what we now know the lousy job that its Internal Revenue Service division does enforcing the rules for granting tax exemptions, why haven’t reporters taken a look at how well Treasury does some of its other jobs? Is there any reason to assume that things are fine at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, or that Treasury is doing a good job selling bonds or enforcing trade sanctions against terrorists or rogue countries, such as Iran? What about collecting taxes and nailing tax cheats?
2. Profiling the low-profile CRP:
I could tell you in about 90 seconds how much Exxon Mobil contributed in the last five or 10 years to members of Congress holding a hearing on oil company tax breaks.
Or how much the NCAA spends on lobbying and what it lobbies for.
Or how much the hospital, drug, and medical device industries gave to members of the Senate Finance committee who held a hearing last month on healthcare pricing transparency.
Or who the leading funeral industry lobbyist is.
I’d simply go to Opensecrets.org, the website of the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics. It’s an amazing collection of data related to federal campaign finance and lobbying. Better yet, its search functions are so good that the types of information I described above really are only seconds away.
More recently, the Opensecrets.org website, led by highly regarded former Time and Wall Street Journal reporter Viveca Novak, has begun publishing a blog and newsletters featuring a variety of important money-related stories. (Current examples: “Top Recipients of ‘Lobbyists’ Cash, 2013: An OpenSecrets Analysis” or “Offshore Drilling Bills’ Sponsors, Cosponsors Received Big Bucks From Oil Industry.”)
CRP is a nonprofit that exists on tax-deductible contributions and the sale of special data searches. Its latest financial report filed with the IRS and covering 2011 shows annual revenue of about $1.4 million, with about half coming from donations and half coming from these special data projects. I bet the numbers are a lot higher lately as CRP’s profile and the sweep of what it reports have grown.
I’ve used the site repeatedly and I have seen it increasingly cited in all kinds of political stories. It’s also been praised as a great new resource, repeatedly by other media. But I’ve never seen a comprehensive story about CRP, including profiles of executive director Sheila Krumholz and its board of directors (who seem to be a relatively low-profile group for such an important organization). I’d also like to know how CRP got started, how it operates, what its greatest challenges are, how others in Washington assess its work, and what plans it has to expand the range and impact of the information it gathers.
In that regard, I’ve long had a fantasy that, with its great data crunchers and obvious moxie, CRP could probably make happen — if C-Span is willing: When C-Span shows a House or Senate vote or a House or Senate committee hearing, CRP could give C-Span the relevant data so that along with the chyron showing the senator’s or congressman’s name there would be a listing of the amount of money he or she has taken in the last four or eight years from the interest groups most affected by the issue being debated.
If C-Span is unwilling, CRP could at least blog a daily report linking each member’s money haul to that day’s hearings or votes so that other news organizations could use it. Sure, putting the dollars next to the names on a continuous basis would be embarrassing, probably as embarrassing to Washington as the reports of cash deliveries to Hamid Karzai were to the Afghan leader. But that would be the point.