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Political Transparency Project

As noted in an earlier posting, the Sunlight Foundation has awarded us one of its “Transparency Grants” for a test in California. As the foundation noted, we intend to

develop an Election Year Demonstration Project for citizen journalism in one Congressional district. CCM will oversee the creation of a website that will seek to cover everything that can possibly be reported on a Congressional election, with an emphasis on drawing on the talents and ideas of local citizen reporters. The site will include in-depth biographical and political information on candidates, audio and video archives, campaign finance profiles, first-person reports, links to articles, etc. This project is designed to serve as a model for possible nationwide implementation in hundreds of districts in 2008.

Here are some specifics:

The working title of this initiative is “Political transparency by the people, for the people,” and the goals are several-fold.

First: In a competitive congressional district — namely California’s 11th district — we hope to create an online repository of every scrap of information about the candidates, issues and campaign.

Second: We will pick an element of this data collection — the advertising — and add value through further reporting and analysis.

Third, and most important: We will use what we learn to create a template for the 2008 election and beyond.

The Repository

We plan to collect the following (and more):

  • Candidate information, including biographies, position papers, financial reports and much more.
  • Archive of, and/or links to, all articles and other coverage in local, regional and national media about candidates and their campaigns.
  • Archive of radio and television coverage, or links to it.
  • Audio and video archive from in-district appearances, collected and contributed by citizen journalists and other interested people, along with citizen reports.
  • Copies of all advertising, including radio/TV spots, Web ads, pamphlets and mailers.
  • Discussion boards about the candidates and the issues.

Citizen Efforts

We will try to assemble the best-ever collection of audio and video from the candidates. For example, we will encourage citizens to attend public campaign events and videotape what candidates say. We also hope to collect videos of semi-public appearances such as fund-raising events. In addition, we will ask people (starting with the candidates themselves) to record and submit all broadcast/cable advertising. We’ll ask for scans of print ads, including mailers sent to people at home. (Note: It is possible that the campaign staffs may provide us with some of this material. We’ll encourage such cooperation with the project.)


The material we collect will be posted online. The site will be designed, built and initially maintained by the students in an online journalism class (J298) this fall at the Graduate School of Journalism, University of California, Berkeley. Assisting the students will be co-instructors Dan Gillmor, director of the Center for Citizen Media, and Bill Gannon, editorial director at Yahoo!, as well as Scot Hacker, webmaster at the journalism school.


We anticipate that media organizations and political activists will find the data valuable for coverage and campaign activities. But we also hope that voters, students and others will make use of it for a variety of other purposes, and that they (and, if possible, the candidates themselves), will participate in the conversations.

The Berkeley students will also look at the advertising in depth. Specifically, we hope to deconstruct it for the voters, grading it for truth and fairness.


After the election, we’ll analyze the project’s accomplishments to date and also its drawbacks. Then we’ll assemble what we hope will be a working model for people to use in upcoming elections.


We plan to hire an in-district coordinator for approximately two to three months. His or her principal task will be to organize citizen journalists; work with campaign staff and other interested parties to help ensure completeness of the data repository; and, after the election, help debrief the organizers (and public) about what worked and what didn’t.

The in-district coordinator will ideally be a resident of the district. He or she must be independent politically.


This project is nonpartisan. It is designed to help voters of all persuasions.


Keep in mind that this will be a work in progress from the very beginning. It isn’t just likely to change; it’s guaranteed to change as we learn what works and what doesn’t.

We believe this project has terrific potential. We have major advantages — including a great group of students; a budget that allows us to hire an excellent on-the-ground person in the district; and a desire to help improve American politics in a small way this year that could pay big dividends in the future.

As Ellen Miller, president of the Sunlight Foundation, wrote in her blog, “Imagine citizens taking video cameras to fundraising events, or house meetings, or conversations with senior citizens and then posting them all on a single website. Imagine combining that with first-person reports, links to articles, data bases on campaign financing, video archives of past statements, etc. etc.”

We hope you’ll imagine it with us, and suggest ways to make it work better.

12 Comments on “Political Transparency Project”

  1. #1 Invisible Inkling » Blog Archive » The Internet is for democracy
    on Sep 10th, 2006 at 5:11 pm

    […] It’s a political transparency project, with the goal of gathering everything there is to know about this year’s race for the 11th congressional district here in California, featuring incumbent Richard Pombo (R-Tracy). […]

  2. #2 Web 2.0 Newspapers
    on Sep 11th, 2006 at 2:33 pm

    Quick Hits: Web 2.0 Newspaper Upper-daters…

    More than you asked for, perhaps, but is it as much as you'd hoped? (Let me know.) 
    Let the upper-daters begin: 
    Poynter's Al Tompkins looks at 9/11 news on the Web in "The Day The Web Grew Up", which includes links to newsp…

  3. #3 Tom Stites
    on Sep 12th, 2006 at 10:13 am

    Is there a plan to study who from the public takes part in this fascinating exercise, a survey to determine demographic information, voting history, type of work and union membership, etc.? Might the Pew people lend their expertise to a project like this? A project on this scale could provide important insights into who engages in public journalism and who doesn’t.

  4. #4 Dan Gillmor
    on Sep 12th, 2006 at 2:30 pm

    Tom, no such plans currently, but it’s a good idea. I’m not sure there’s time to pull together a deep study of this kind, though…

  5. #5 Center for Citizen Media: Blog » Blog Archive » Do Public Media Believe in the Public?
    on Sep 21st, 2006 at 3:51 am

    […] How could today’s public media organizations be more open in this context? I offered one example, which relates to the class project we’re organizing at the University of California, Berkeley, this fall — an ambitious collection of all data we can put together about a congressional campaign near the Bay Area. […]

  6. #6 Center for Citizen Media: Blog » Blog Archive » Matt Vree Joins Political Transparency Project
    on Sep 25th, 2006 at 9:34 am

    […] We’re glad to have Matt Vree joining us for our political transparency project in California’s 11th Congressional District. Matt will be working in the district to pull together a variety of data and information, with a focus on citizen contributions. […]

  7. #7 links for 2006-09-26 at This is really happening.
    on Sep 25th, 2006 at 6:20 pm

    […] Center for Citizen Media: Blog » Blog Archive » Political Transparency Project Another open-source project covering the elections with Dan Gillmor’s help (tags: campaigns research citizen-journalism personaldemocracy) […]

  8. #8 Ben Tremblay
    on Sep 26th, 2006 at 12:26 pm

    Sounds like Indymedia!

    continued success

  9. #9 Center for Citizen Media: Blog » Blog Archive » More Distributed Journalism
    on Oct 6th, 2006 at 12:18 pm

    […] The Sunlight Foundation, which is sponsoring our Political Transparency project, has a new request for the public — this time helping out on the Congressional Spouse Project: First, we want to find out how many members of the House of Representatives hire their spouses to work for their campaigns—paying them a salary from campaign contributions. (We’ll add a version for tracking the Senate soon.) Second, we want to begin developing tools that allow Citizen Journalists to record the results of their research, preserving the connections they find in unrelated collections of data. […]

  10. #10 Center for Citizen Media: Blog » Blog Archive » Congressional Family Favors Discovered
    on Oct 7th, 2006 at 8:05 am

    […] Ellen Miller, president of the Sunlight Foundation, which is sponsoring our Political Transparency project, reports early results from the organization’s Congressional Spouse Project, which is asking folks to help figure out “how many members of the House of Representatives hire their spouses to work for their campaigns—paying them a salary from campaign contributions.” She reports: As of 8 AM EDT Saturday, we’re at 257 members investigated, and 12 spouses totaling some $455,539… We have been spot checking and all seem accurate. All will be verified before we release any formal results, Here’s a behind the scenes breakdown of what’s going on. […]

  11. #11 Faneuil Media » Data that talks
    on Oct 24th, 2006 at 8:43 am

    […] Dan Gillmor and his Berkeley class seem to be focusing on this problem. Their project in California’s 11th Congressional district seems designed to pull together public resources (including data, I assume) to make it easier for citizen journalists to cover the race. […]

  12. #12 Data that talks at Faneuil Media Blog
    on Nov 1st, 2006 at 1:14 am

    […] Dan Gillmor and his Berkeley class seem to be focusing on this problem. Their project in California’s 11th Congressional district seems designed to pull together public resources (including data, I assume) to make it easier for citizen journalists to cover the race. […]