Dirt Diggers Digest No. 79

Editor: Philip Mattera

August 15, 2007



-- 1. Congress passes new legislative transparency measures

-- 2. Searching the D.C. Madam's phone records

-- 3. POGO launches new database of contractor misconduct

-- 4. Ancestry.com expands info offerings on the living

-- 5. ExecRelate shows links among 700,000 executives and directors

-- 6. Tracking the private interests of governors

-- 7. More company information appears on free sites

-- 8. Video of Taming the Giant Corporation conference now online

-- 9. Research Job Openings [omitted from web version]


1. Congress passes new legislative transparency measures


Shortly before starting its August recess, Congress finally took decisive action on the lobbying and ethics reforms that Democrats had been promoting since they took control of both chambers in January. Among the provisions of the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007 (S.1), now awaiting the signature of the President, are significant improvements in transparency. The bill will create a searchable website containing all lobbyist registrations and periodic reports, which will have to be submitted quarterly rather than semi-annually. Congressional and Presidential candidates will have to report when lobbyists arrange donations and deliver them as bundled contributions of $15,000 or more during a six-month period. S.1 will also require that all earmarked spending items and tax expenditures in bills be identified and posted online at least 48 hours before a vote on the measure.

In a separate action, the Senate passed the OPEN Government Act of 2007 (S.849), which provides for the first major reforms in the Freedom of Information Act in more than a decade. The bill would make it more difficult for agencies to stall in their responses to FOIA requests, would clarify that FOIA applies to government records held by outside private contractors and would establish a FOIA hotline service for all federal agencies. It would also clarify that freelance journalists and bloggers are eligible for fee waivers. The bill will now have to be resolved with a similar measure previously passed by the House.

The need to reform FOIA was documented in a recent report issued by the Coalition of Journalists for Open Government and was one of the themes in the report Government Secrecy: Decisions Without Democracy published last month by Openthegovernment.org and People for the American Way.


2. Searching the D.C. Madam's phone records


Washington has been abuzz in recent weeks with talk of another kind of disclosure. A woman named Deborah Jeane Palfrey, dubbed the D.C. Madam in the media, has made public 13 years of phone records of her former business Pamela Martin and Associates, which federal prosecutors charge was a prostitution service. Palfrey insists that her operation was a "high-end adult fantasy firm" that provided "legal sexual and erotic services." She says she released the phone records in an attempt to get former clients to come forward and clear her name. That hasn't exactly happened, but one of the phone numbers turned out to belong to Sen. David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican and strong proponent of "family values." Vitter apologized for this "serious sin in my past."

Researchers are combing through the more than 5,000 different numbers in the phone records to see if others can be matched with prominent individuals. To assist in that process, a group of computer programmers and information technology specialists calling themselves the D.C. Phone Listers converted the records into an easily searchable web database called DCPhoneList.


3. POGO launches new database of contractor misconduct


The Project On Government Oversight (POGO) recently released a new and improved version of its already excellent Federal Contractor Misconduct Database. Now with its own domain name, the database has detailed information on wrongdoing by the 50 largest federal contractors in the period since 1995. The top contractor, Lockheed Martin with some $25 billion in contracts, racked up 40 instances of misconduct and paid a total of $288.6 million in settlements and fines.

The POGO database includes a synopsis of each case along with a link to a primary source document such as a government press release. The contractor pages also have links to the company's annual report and 10-K, its Hoover's profile, its list of subsidiaries, its lobbying data and other information. Also included is information on a contractor's pending cases (which are not included in the main database of misconduct).

POGO's work was recently cited by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) when she introduced a bill (H.R. 3033) that would create a comprehensive federal database on contractor performance and misconduct.


4. Ancestry.com expands info offerings on the living


Ancestry.com, the website best know for helping people trace their long-dead relatives, has been expanding its offerings of databases that include the living. Recently, it added databases of California marriages and divorces from the 1960s through the mid-1980s. It also has marriage, divorce, birth and death information for a number of other states for varying periods. Also available are searches of nationwide phone directories from 1993 to 2002 with the ability to display listings for a person's neighbors. Yet another feature allows searching for home addresses, phone numbers and birthdates from a compilation of public records that is said to include more than 1 billion entries. Ancestry.com got press attention back in May when it uploaded 90 million U.S. war records extending from Colonial times through the end of the Vietnam War.


5. ExecRelate shows links among 700,000 executives and directors


LexisNexis has introduced a new standalone service called ExecRelate that claims to provide basic biographical information on some 700,000 corporate executives and directors. Coverage is said to include "nearly 200,000 of the most prominent U.S. and international public and private companies" as well as "50,000 board members from all NYSE, NASDAQ and AMEX traded companies." Search features make it possible to identify common affiliations with specific companies or other institutions. ExecRelate also includes a social networking program called Relationship Manager.

The entries on individuals include year of birth, college and professional degrees and company affiliations. Those involving board members provide more details (presumably lifted from proxy statements) such as other board memberships and philanthropic affiliations. All in all, it seems to be a useful resource. The only catch is the price. LexisNexis does not publicize what it costs to subscribe to the service, but an article by info expert Barbara Quint reports that the annual fee might be "upward of $6,000."


6. Tracking the private interests of governors


The Center for Public Integrity recently released the latest in its series of studies of disclosure practices among the states. This time the focus was on the quality of personal financial disclosures made by governors. Only Washington State merited a grade of A in the tally.

The Center added the survey of disclosures by governors to it webpage called States of Disclosure: Tracking the Private Interests of Public Officials, which has similar information on judges and legislators in each of the states. The Center's site also includes a PDF warehouse of the actual disclosure forms filed by legislators, judges and top executive branch officials in each state over the past five years.


7. More company information appears on free sites


The number of websites offering prodigious amounts of free company information continues to expand. American City Business Journals has added to its Bizjournals.com site launched a beta version of what it says will be a database of more than 880,000 public and private companies. Since American City publishes 41 regional business publications, it is presumably in a good position to cover a wide range of smaller firms. It appears that basic info will be free, but more detailed profiles will require a subscription.

A few months ago, Business Week launched what it called the Company Insight Center, which promised to provide detailed information on some 42,000 public companies in the U.S. and abroad. The site draws not only from the weekly magazine but also from the resources of sister McGraw-Hill services Standard & Poor's and Capital IQ. Broad company and market data can also be found on the Wall Street Journal's Markets Data Center webpage, though it remains to be seen whether the status of that service is affected by the sale of the Journal's parent company Dow Jones to Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.


8. Video of Taming the Giant Corporation conference now online


If you missed Ralph Nader's "Taming the Giant Corporation" conference held in June in Washington, you can now use your computer to watch videos of each of the more than 30 plenary presentations offered by the stellar speakers ranging from Mark Green and Robert Monks to Thea Lee and Rep. Dennis Kucinich. You can also watch the closing session: an interview with Nader conducted by Amy Goodman of Democracy Now.