Watchdogs Make It Easier to Probe Government Spending

By Nathan Burchfiel | July 7, 2008 | 8:31pm EDT

( - Two watchdog groups that publicize campaign finance records have launched new features that will allow website visitors to search information about politicians' personal finances and privately funded trips, as well as government spending.

The Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), which operates, is now publishing data that shows how much members of Congress are worth and how much money has been spent by other organizations on their travel.

OMB Watch, a group that "exists to increase government transparency and accountability," according to its website, also announced the launch of, a website that allows users to access information on federal contracts.

All of the information being offered by the two sites is already made public by the government, but according to CRP spokesman Massie Ritsch, "the government doesn't always make it easy to understand or easy to find."

Ritsch said CRP and OMB Watch are taking "thousands and thousands of paper filings" and "slicing it and dicing it in a way that we think makes it easier to understand and easier to see trends and spot conflicts of interest."

Ritsch told Cybercast News Service the new databases "are going to be hugely useful tools for the many reporters, activists and regular citizens who like to do the muckraking, who like to dig around in data and look for curious things and doggedly pursue them."

The information offered on will be part of the federal database required in the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act, which President Bush signed into law Sept. 26.

The difference, according to OMB Watch, is that the federal database will be more comprehensive but may not be available until January 2008.

"The American people have been largely in the dark about to whom and where their tax dollars go," OMB Watch Executive Director Gary Bass said in a release announcing the site. "With, we believe that will change."

"When average citizens are empowered with the tools to understand and evaluate the choices their government makes," Bass said, "they can engage with government in a meaningful way, and government and those who carry out its work can be held to account."

Krister Holladay, chief of staff for Georgia Republican U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, said it's important for users of the new services to look at more than just surface level numbers and to not assume there are ethics violations.

Chambliss is listed on OpenSecrets' new service as having taken more privately funded trips since July 2005 than any other member of Congress. Chambliss or members of his staff have taken 53 trips worth more than $84,000.

"It's important to dig down and understand ... how that adds up and not leave the false impression that this is just somebody traveling for the fun of it," Holladay told Cybercast News Service .

"These are work trips. They're cleared through the (Senate) Ethics Committee. We make sure we follow all the appropriate rules, guidelines and regulations," Holladay said.

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