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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Sunlight Network Launches Punch Clock Campaign for Daily Congressional Calendars


Most people out in the real world beyond Washington, D.C. have to account for their time while at work. Millions of working folks even punch in and punch out every day. It's the way their paychecks are calculated.

So what about our representatives in Congress, shouldn't they have to account for their time to us, the taxpayers who are their collective boss? I think so and so does the Sunlight Network, which today has launched a super new campaign designed to get Members of Congress to agree to publish their daily calendars.

Want to know more (and you should)? Here's a handy FAQ from Sunlight that explains the Punch Clock campaign:

What is the Punch Clock Campaign?

The Punch Clock Campaign is a two-month grassroots campaign to get Members of Congress, whether they are running for re-election in 2006 or not, and all other FEC qualified candidates, to sign an agreement to post their daily schedules on the Internet.

The Sunlight Network is offering members of the public a “good-will bounty,” or fee, of $1,000 for each Member of Congress, and $250 for all other qualified candidates, that they persuade to sign this Agreement. That’s a $680,000 bounty award.

Members of Congress work for us, and we need to know what they do with their time.

Why are you launching the Punch Clock Campaign?

There are a couple of reasons. First, this Congress has put in less work days than any other Congress since 1948. We are curious as to what they are doing with their time when they are not in legislative session. Second, the Sunlight Network is hoping the change the nature of the relationship between lawmakers and citizens and that starts with lawmakers being more transparent and open about what they do as elected representatives – posting their calendars would begin that process.

What does the Agreement say?

The Agreement reads:

I believe citizens have a right to know what their Member of Congress does every day.

Starting with the next Congress, I promise to publish my daily official work schedule on the internet, within 24 hours of the end of every work day. I will include all matters relating to my role as a Member of Congress. I will include all meetings with constituents, other Members, and lobbyists, listed by name. (In rare cases I will withhold the names of constituents whose privacy must be protected.) I will also include all fundraising events. Events will be listed whether Congress is in session or not, and whether I am in Washington, traveling, or in my district.

Can one person get more than one Agreement signed?

Absolutely. You do not have to be a constituent of any particular candidate or lawmaker to get receive the fee for a signed pledge. We are paying the bounty as a fee for valuable services rendered.

Why do you think any Member would sign this?

They will, if their constituents demand it. Change only happens when lots of grassroots people get involved.

This campaign is a way of distributing the work among the people who care the most about it, and rewarding them for their efforts. To get this to happen, we’ll need lots of people pressing their own congress members in their own districts.

Why should Members of Congress post their schedules? Shouldn’t they be private?

Of course not. Every Member of Congress works for the American people, yet, we don’t know how they spend their time. Imagine if you told your boss that you couldn’t punch in and out of work, because your time was “too private.”

Over 60 percent of American workers work hourly, and almost all workers have to account for their time. Custodial workers and chain store workers punch a clock, and lawyers keep time sheets – everyone knows that they are accountable to their bosses and clients.

The most remarkable fact of our democracy is our commitment to having those who govern us be governed by us. This can only work where there is basic trust, openness, and transparency. It’s our job, as citizens, to ask them to do better on all these fronts.

So you want them to tell us when they get their haircut or when they have dinner with their wife?

No, the pledge only asks that Members post their work schedule, not time off the clock. That said we include fundraisers, junkets – serious or frivolous – and lunch meetings with other lawmakers or lobbyists or constituents.

Aren’t there security concerns here? Should Members let dangerous people know where they’ll be any second of the day?

We took that into account, and the Agreement provides that schedules be posted one day after they happen. That way, no one can use the schedule to figure out where they can go to harm a lawmaker.

How do you think Members of Congress spend their time?

We simply don't know. An educated guess is that a good chunk of time is spent with lobbyists and donors, or making campaign fundraising phone calls. But again, that's a guess – we simply do not know for certain.

Maybe Members of Congress are spending most of their time meeting with their constituents, overseeing government agencies, developing legislation and going on fact-finding missions. Either way, they should have nothing to hide.

Unfortunately, that lack of disclosure has led people to think negatively about how their representative is spending time. For those Members who are spending the strong majority of time doing the people’s work, opening up their schedule should increase public confidence in them.

Who is the Sunlight Network? How is it related to the Sunlight Foundation?

The Sunlight Network, a 501 c(4) affiliated with the Sunlight Foundation, was founded in 2006 to foster a more positive relationship between lawmakers and their constituents, using technology, transparency, and local communities. Te Sunlight Foundation is a 501 c(3).