Friday, June 27, 2008

What Makes Pages To Campaign Contributions Disappear?

Unfree State

There's nothing quite as frustrating as carefully culling the campaign contributions of developers such as Doracon Contracting President Ronald H. Lipscomb online, linking them to articles so others can review them, only to have the pages disappear in a day or two.

This is not the first time I have had this happen to me since I began blogging, but now other bloggers I know are reporting the same problem.

So far, it's an unsolved mystery.

When I contacted the Maryland Board of Elections, and after I called three different numbers before I could get someone in IT, I was then promptly handed off to the University of Baltimore County, which maintains the campaign contribution portion of the site.

Of course, I was unsuccessful at reaching anyone there. So I sent an email to the Webmaster asking why the pages of campaign contributions I linked to were disappearing, or wrong? If and when I get an answer, I'll let you know. But for now, the disappearing pages are a mystery. And if I had a conspiratorial inclination, I might even think that somebody in high places didn't want citizens to scrutinize the contributions.

After all, Maryland is one of the few states that requires anyone reviewing these public records in person to provide an ID and telephone number. And did you know that in Maryland that the clerk can then contact the elected official and report to them who is searching their records? It's the law, passed by state legislators.

That's one more reason why reviewing records online makes a lot of sense, especially considering the price of gas. But if the pages and addresses to these records melt into thin air every couple of days, it means citizens like me have to start all over with our research. Maybe we might even grow tired and give up!

So much for transparency in government.

Crossposted on Unfreestate.com

11 comments:

A Life Well Lived said...

It's a conspiracy.

No doubt about it.

CED said...

Check it out for yourself.

A Life Well Lived said...

I have. I know its true.

Just glad someone is out there exposing it for the rest of them.

Last Reporter said...

I contacted the Webmaster of the UMBC site, which host the records; so far, no response.

Daniel said...

CED,

I seem to remember something earlier about the push for such legislation (to collect the requestor's id upon such requests).

Is this Baltimore only or statewide?

Last Reporter said...

It is in effect statewide. It as though we the citizens are interlopers by asking for public records. They like to keep things closed and complicated.

Anonymous said...

The reason you can't link to search pages is because it is not a real web page you are accessing, but a script. It's not a conspiracy, it's just that it is a computer program and not a static webpage that actually exists.

The best way is to just tell someone what search string you are using, and have them search for themselves to see. Or download the CSV file and put that on your site.

A Life Well Lived said...

Free State has done the work for you...go, read, learn.

Last Reporter said...

Anonymous,

In the past, I have linked an article to a specific campaign contribution page. In one case the page stayed linked for several months, until more publicity about the contribution started to hit the media. Soon after, it no longer connected to the same page. Was this a coincidence? I'd like to know.

Plus, the page is just on a single contributor. Also, I have done what you suggest, and each time the results are different? Is it just a crappy system????

Why is it that all other reference material at sites stays perfectly linked, but this one doesn't. Why have a static link. It doesn't make sense because many times the same page is referred to.

I will wait for the Web master from the site to explain, if he does.

Last Reporter said...

Anonymous,

Perhaps you are correct. In fact, you very well may be. From now on I will have to download the CSV file, if this is the problem. It just puzzles me as to why sometimes it stays linked to the page, but sometimes it doesn't.

Ortiz said...

http://www.examiner.com/a-1470721~Make_transparency_city_s_policy.html

Editorial
Make transparency city’s policy

The Baltimore Examiner Newspaper
2008-07-03
BALTIMORE -

Trying to find a city contract in Baltimore City is like trying to find one in a black hole. You need the contract number or some other specific information, like the date it was approved. Forget about asking how much money, for example, a particular city contractor has received in the last 10 years from taxpayers. And since no records are digital, you must show up in person to ask.

Want to listen to a City Council hearing? Go to Goodwill and try to find a Walkman, because the only way to do so is via cassette tape. We’re not kidding. It is 1980-something in Baltimore City.

So City Councilwoman Belinda Conaway’s (D-7) proposal to make available all city disbursements online in an easily searchable database is something revolutionary only in Baltimore. Other jurisdictions are way ahead. The state just passed legislation with overwhelming bipartisan support to put all state spending above $25,000 online on a searchable Web site starting in January, and other counties are following suit, including Howard, whose version will come online in 2010. The federal government makes its spending available online at www.usaspending.gov, thanks to legislation co-sponsored by Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.).

Some people have asked Conaway if the legislation is aimed at hurting Mayor Sheila Dixon, under investigation for allegedly taking bribes from an ex-lover who received tax breaks while she was City Council president. It’s not. It’s about ensuring that “taxpayers know they are being represented well by their elected officials,” as Conaway said.

Conaway should ask Del. Warren Miller (R-Howard), who sponsored the state legislation, and Howard County Councilman Greg Fox (R-5), who sponsored Howard County’s legislation, for help in drafting the bill and outlining how to pay for it and to set up the technology to make it happen.

Ensuring taxpayers have easy access to city spending will make it easier for residents to understand and participate in local government, deter fraud and help our elected officials to save money. As Del. Miller noted in an opinion piece earlier this year, “After Texas passed a transparency law in 2007, state Comptroller Susan Combs estimated a savings of $2.3 million in her office alone. Much of the savings came from combining multiple contracts for the same services and from eliminating contracts for products the office no longer needed but was unaware it was purchasing. The vast size of state government often means the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing. The greater oversight created by transparency laws effectively eliminates this problem.” The same is true of city government.

City Council members should wholeheartedly endorse her legislation at the July 22 meeting and pass it at the earliest possible date.
Examiner

ShareThis