Making Congress More Transparent

As I travel across the state and listen to New Yorkers, there is no question how worried people are about the economy -- if the job they have today will be here tomorrow, if the job they lost is ever coming back, and how they are going to make ends meet and provide for their families. I share these concerns and I'm working each and every day to put New Yorkers back to work, support small businesses and grow our economy for the long term.

But what I also hear from people time and again is that they have very little faith that Congress is working to solve their problems. Frankly, when they look to Washington they see a lot of people who are more concerned about scoring cheap political points than improving their lives and solving their problems.

The fact is, New Yorkers feel they're not being heard, that too much business is happening behind closed doors and too often the system only benefits the special interests that have way too much power. That's why I am traveling the state during August recess to promote my transparency agenda and let New Yorkers know that making Washington work for you is one of my top priorities.

As I wrote back in July, the four pillars of my reform agenda are as follows:

1. Make Federal Funding Requests Fully Transparent
2. Reduce Corporate Special Interest Influence on Elections
3. End Automatic Congressional Pay Raises
4. Ban Anonymous Holds on Legislation

I'm pleased to report that in late July, the first item on my agenda took a step forward when the Earmark Transparency Act -- which I wrote with Republicans Tom Coburn and John McCain, and Democrat Russ Feingold to create an easily searchable earmark database -- passed out of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

Under our bill, every single lawmaker will have to disclose the amount of their initial request, the amount approved by Committee, and the amount approved in final passage. They will also need to disclose the type of organization receiving the funding, what they will use it for, and justify why they need taxpayer dollars to fund their project.

If everyone in America can easily see who and what their lawmakers are requesting taxpayer money for, we can keep elected officials honest, end the days of political, special interest favors, and reduce wasteful spending.

Now that it's passed out of committee, I have asked Majority Leader Reid to bring this bill up for a vote on the Senate floor. Will you help me push this important reform through the Senate and co-sign my letter to Majority Leader Reid?

You can read the full letter below:

Dear Leader Reid,

I write today to request that the Senate consider a bipartisan earmark transparency bill before the end of this Congressional session. Providing more openness and transparency to the earmark process will create greater accountability and more effectively engage our constituents in our efforts to create jobs and invest in our communities.

I, along with 27 of our colleagues, recently cosponsored the Earmark Transparency Act, S. 3335. This bill requires that all earmark requests made by Senators be listed in an easily searchable, public, database. Specifically, the legislation requires the database to include the following information about each federal funding request:

- Amount of initial request made by requestor;
- Amount approved by the Committee of jurisdiction;
- Amount approved in final legislation (if approved);
- Type of organization receiving the request (public, non-profit, or private for-profit entity);
- Project name, description and estimated completion date;
- Justification explaining how the spending item would benefit taxpayers;
- Description, if applicable, of all non-federal sources of funding for the Congressionally directed spending item;
- Requests and supplemental documents submitted to a committee of Congress.

This legislation has broad bipartisan support and it is my firm belief that more openness and transparency will improve the earmark process.

For the last three years, I have listed my earmark requests on my website and I have received positive feedback from my constituents. By providing my constituents with all the information about the requests I make, I've empowered citizens in New York to play a role in the process, articulating what projects they think are smart investments and areas where taxpayer money could be better invested.

As you know, President Obama has called for a single Web site to track all earmark requests and it is my hope that we may be able to create something that can be used during the appropriations process next year.

I realize the Senate schedule will be very busy this year, but I hope that I may work with you to carve out just a small amount of time to consider this important issue.

Thanks for joining me in the fight to make Washington more transparent and our representatives more accountable so that we can restore Americans' faith in their government again.

P.S. When it comes to reforming the way Washington works, I know that at the top of people's list of priorities is filibuster reform. Right now there is no question that the Republicans are abusing the filibuster and I absolutely support reforming it so that we have majority rule in the US Senate. There are a number of legislative proposals I'm considering to accomplish this important reform.