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AP cites GovTrack, and another ethics question

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  • Josh Tauberer
    An AP article cited GovTrack, which I think is a first. But I think it ... http://www.forbes.com/feeds/ap/2008/01/15/ap4534727.html I have always billed the
    Message 1 of 6 , Jan 21, 2008
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      An AP article cited GovTrack, which I think is a first. But I think it
      raises a new question for me. Here's an excerpt:

      > The Managed Funds Association, a leading hedge fund trade group,
      > announced Tuesday it named Rep. Richard Baker, R-La., as its
      > president and chief executive.
      ...
      > An early and vocal critic of federally sponsored home mortgage giants
      > Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Baker sponsored 123 bills since January 1997,
      > of which six were enacted, according to GovTrack. The nonpartisan,
      > noncommercial Web site called Baker's legislative record average for
      > House members.
      http://www.forbes.com/feeds/ap/2008/01/15/ap4534727.html

      I have always billed the site myself as "nonpartisan, noncommercial".
      However, in light of the fact that through the advertising on the site I
      am now turning a nontrivial profit (though by no means anything to live
      off of), at what point, if any, should I stop calling it noncommercial?

      The ultimate goal is certainly not to make money with the site. I need
      *some* advertising so I can at least keep up with the cost of the server
      itself (now $200/mo.). But if advertising brings in more, I don't think
      I have a responsibility to tune the advertising down so it's "just enough".

      What does it really mean to call something noncommercial?

      --
      - Josh Tauberer
      - GovTrack.us

      http://razor.occams.info

      "Yields falsehood when preceded by its quotation! Yields
      falsehood when preceded by its quotation!" Achilles to
      Tortoise (in "Gödel, Escher, Bach" by Douglas Hofstadter)
    • jason gessner
      are you interested in setting up govtrack as an official non-profit? commercial isn t necessarily bad, though. -jason
      Message 2 of 6 , Jan 21, 2008
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        are you interested in setting up govtrack as an official non-profit?

        commercial isn't necessarily bad, though.

        -jason

        On Jan 21, 2008 5:41 PM, Josh Tauberer <tauberer@...> wrote:
        > An AP article cited GovTrack, which I think is a first. But I think it
        > raises a new question for me. Here's an excerpt:
        >
        > > The Managed Funds Association, a leading hedge fund trade group,
        > > announced Tuesday it named Rep. Richard Baker, R-La., as its
        > > president and chief executive.
        > ...
        > > An early and vocal critic of federally sponsored home mortgage giants
        > > Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Baker sponsored 123 bills since January 1997,
        > > of which six were enacted, according to GovTrack. The nonpartisan,
        > > noncommercial Web site called Baker's legislative record average for
        > > House members.
        > http://www.forbes.com/feeds/ap/2008/01/15/ap4534727.html
        >
        > I have always billed the site myself as "nonpartisan, noncommercial".
        > However, in light of the fact that through the advertising on the site I
        > am now turning a nontrivial profit (though by no means anything to live
        > off of), at what point, if any, should I stop calling it noncommercial?
        >
        > The ultimate goal is certainly not to make money with the site. I need
        > *some* advertising so I can at least keep up with the cost of the server
        > itself (now $200/mo.). But if advertising brings in more, I don't think
        > I have a responsibility to tune the advertising down so it's "just enough".
        >
        > What does it really mean to call something noncommercial?
        >
        > --
        > - Josh Tauberer
        > - GovTrack.us
        >
        > http://razor.occams.info
        >
        > "Yields falsehood when preceded by its quotation! Yields
        > falsehood when preceded by its quotation!" Achilles to
        > Tortoise (in "Gödel, Escher, Bach" by Douglas Hofstadter)
        >
        >
        >
        > Yahoo! Groups Links
        >
        >
        >
        >
      • Josh Tauberer
        ... I ve thought a lot about it and I m still not certain. Right now anyway the money going in and out isn t so much that it would make sense to do anything
        Message 3 of 6 , Jan 22, 2008
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          jason gessner wrote:
          > are you interested in setting up govtrack as an official non-profit?
          > commercial isn't necessarily bad, though.

          I've thought a lot about it and I'm still not certain. Right now anyway
          the money going in and out isn't so much that it would make sense to do
          anything official, but perhaps in a year.

          The trouble with a nonprofit is that at some point I think it might be
          good to pay myself for the time I spend on the site, and as I understand
          things I couldn't own the nonprofit and also pay myself from it.

          I'm actually leaning toward creating an LLC. That would give this and
          perhaps other projects I start some financial and legal separation from
          myself, but wouldn't create any complicated taxation procedures.

          --
          - Josh Tauberer
          - GovTrack.us

          http://razor.occams.info

          "Yields falsehood when preceded by its quotation! Yields
          falsehood when preceded by its quotation!" Achilles to
          Tortoise (in "Gödel, Escher, Bach" by Douglas Hofstadter)
        • Daniel Lathrop
          Josh-- The LLC things is not a bad idea for the time being, remember that an LLC can be treated as personal income for tax purposes and in that context
          Message 4 of 6 , Jan 22, 2008
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            Josh--

            The LLC things is not a bad idea for the time being, remember that an LLC can be treated as personal income for tax purposes and in that context govtrack would still be considered a small business with the attendant possibilities for tax deductions for your expenses (including home office deduction).

            As someone who has worked at a non-profit, I would suggest:
            1) leave it alone unless someone wants to donate
            2) if that happens, bring govtrack under another group's umbrella for fundraising purposes (many very good charities and foundations do this for small projects)
            3) meanwhile, do get the copyright, trademark, etc issues straightened out to some small extent (maybe there's a lawyer on this list who could help Josh for free?)

            Typically nobody "owns" a nonprofit, it is operated by a board of directors and managed (typically) by an executive director who may be paid.

            Seriously, though, talk to a lawyer or an accountant who focuses on this stuff.

            Daniel Lathrop



            On Jan 22, 2008 5:59 AM, Josh Tauberer < tauberer@...> wrote:

            jason gessner wrote:
            > are you interested in setting up govtrack as an official non-profit?
            > commercial isn't necessarily bad, though.

            I've thought a lot about it and I'm still not certain. Right now anyway
            the money going in and out isn't so much that it would make sense to do
            anything official, but perhaps in a year.

            The trouble with a nonprofit is that at some point I think it might be
            good to pay myself for the time I spend on the site, and as I understand
            things I couldn't own the nonprofit and also pay myself from it.

            I'm actually leaning toward creating an LLC. That would give this and
            perhaps other projects I start some financial and legal separation from
            myself, but wouldn't create any complicated taxation procedures.

            --

            - Josh Tauberer
            - GovTrack.us

            http://razor.occams.info

            "Yields falsehood when preceded by its quotation! Yields
            falsehood when preceded by its quotation!" Achilles to
            Tortoise (in "Gödel, Escher, Bach" by Douglas Hofstadter)



            --
            Daniel Lathrop
            www.linkstained.com
          • Bryan Barry
            I agree whole heartedly with Jeff s and Daniel s comments. I was also going to mention possible legal and accounting advice if you decide to move the site
            Message 5 of 6 , Jan 22, 2008
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              I agree whole heartedly with Jeff's and Daniel's comments.  I was also going to mention possible legal and accounting advice if you decide to move the site towards a small business/non-profit direction.  Personally, I wouldn't mess with it, but after all, this is your site and you should do what is best for you....but you already know that.
               
              Bryan Barry 



              ----- Original Message ----
              From: Josh Tauberer <tauberer@...>
              To: GovTrack List <govtrack@yahoogroups.com>
              Sent: Monday, January 21, 2008 5:41:11 PM
              Subject: [govtrack] AP cites GovTrack, and another ethics question

              An AP article cited GovTrack, which I think is a first. But I think it
              raises a new question for me. Here's an excerpt:

              > The Managed Funds Association, a leading hedge fund trade group,
              > announced Tuesday it named Rep. Richard Baker, R-La., as its
              > president and chief executive.
              ...
              > An early and vocal critic of federally sponsored home mortgage giants
              > Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Baker sponsored 123 bills since January 1997,
              > of which six were enacted, according to GovTrack. The nonpartisan,
              > noncommercial Web site called Baker's legislative record average for
              > House members.
              http://www.forbes. com/feeds/ ap/2008/01/ 15/ap4534727. html

              I have always billed the site myself as "nonpartisan, noncommercial" .
              However, in light of the fact that through the advertising on the site I
              am now turning a nontrivial profit (though by no means anything to live
              off of), at what point, if any, should I stop calling it noncommercial?

              The ultimate goal is certainly not to make money with the site. I need
              *some* advertising so I can at least keep up with the cost of the server
              itself (now $200/mo.). But if advertising brings in more, I don't think
              I have a responsibility to tune the advertising down so it's "just enough".

              What does it really mean to call something noncommercial?

              --
              - Josh Tauberer
              - GovTrack.us

              http://razor. occams.info

              "Yields falsehood when preceded by its quotation! Yields
              falsehood when preceded by its quotation!" Achilles to
              Tortoise (in "Gödel, Escher, Bach" by Douglas Hofstadter)




              Be a better friend, newshound, and know-it-all with Yahoo! Mobile. Try it now.
            • andyeggers
              I run a nonprofit called ProxyDemocracy (www.proxydemocracy.org) that is somewhat inspired by govtrack, and I d be happy to share some of my experience with
              Message 6 of 6 , Jan 23, 2008
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                I run a nonprofit called ProxyDemocracy (www.proxydemocracy.org) that
                is somewhat inspired by govtrack, and I'd be happy to share some of my
                experience with you, Josh.

                ProxyDemocracy focuses on proxy voting (ie shareholder voting), and we
                have been working on 1) increasing transparency around mutual funds'
                proxy voting records, which will help investors integrate this
                information into investment decisions, and 2) collecting info about
                upcoming meetings to disseminate to shareholders, who can use this
                information to figure out how to cast their own votes with less
                hassle. Like govtrack, the idea is to aggregate, structure, and
                disseminate a bunch of information in order to make a democratic
                process work better.

                Early last year I incorporated the project as a nonprofit (which is
                very easy) and arranged to get a fiscal sponsor (a 501(c)3
                organization that essentially lends its tax-exempt status to us for
                this project, for a fee of course). This all happened as I was
                applying for my first grant. I've found that applying for grants is a
                bit like applying to grad school (some forms, some inspired writing,
                some deadlines), so you should be good at it, Josh. :-)

                My sense is that you could get some nice grants for govtrack if you
                organized as a nonprofit. Many foundations have programs about
                government accountability and democratic practice and whatnot (I try
                to convince them that corporate democracy matters too), and, as you
                must have noticed, groups like OMB Watch raise a bunch of money to do
                work like yours. These grants will not come unless you go the
                nonprofit route, since foundations need a 501(c)3 recipient for their
                grant. (Some fiscal sponsors will accept groups not incorporated as a
                nonprofit, but I don't think there is much of an advantage of taking
                that approach.) As Daniel said, the director of a nonprofit is paid,
                and it would be perfectly reasonable for you to have a nice salary (or
                pay yourself as a contractor) for the work you do on the site. It is
                also of course acceptable (even encouraged) to have some revenue, from
                ads or otherwise. And wouldn't it be nice to have some money to pay
                someone else to do stuff you don't like doing for the site?

                Going this route will definitely require some more administrative
                hassle (incorporation, fiscal sponsorship, writing grant proposals are
                definitely annoying), and you might find that donors will ask you to
                promote or develop the site in ways you wouldn't otherwise, and you
                may find yourself concocting exciting new extensions to govtrack in
                order to attract funding while your dissertation sits dejectedly
                unfinished. But I think your track record, and the fact that
                government transparency is a pretty well-defined program area for many
                foundations, should make this much easier for you than it has been for me.

                Okay, I've gone on long enough already. I hope this helps. Josh, I'm
                happy to talk more about these issues either on the list or in person
                sometime.

                Andy Eggers


                ______________________
                PhD Candidate
                Department of Government
                Harvard University


                Founder and Director
                ProxyDemocracy
                www.proxydemocracy.org




                --- In govtrack@yahoogroups.com, Bryan Barry <btbarry21@...> wrote:
                >
                > I agree whole heartedly with Jeff's and Daniel's comments. I was
                also going to mention possible legal and accounting advice if you
                decide to move the site towards a small business/non-profit direction.
                Personally, I wouldn't mess with it, but after all, this is your site
                and you should do what is best for you....but you already know that.
                >
                > Bryan Barry
                > btbarry21@...
                > bryan.barry@...
                >
                >
                >
                >
                > ----- Original Message ----
                > From: Josh Tauberer <tauberer@...>
                > To: GovTrack List <govtrack@yahoogroups.com>
                > Sent: Monday, January 21, 2008 5:41:11 PM
                > Subject: [govtrack] AP cites GovTrack, and another ethics question
                >
                >
                >
                >
                >
                >
                >
                >
                >
                >
                >
                >
                >
                >
                > An AP article cited GovTrack, which I think is a first.
                But I think it
                >
                > raises a new question for me. Here's an excerpt:
                >
                >
                >
                > > The Managed Funds Association, a leading hedge fund trade group,
                >
                > > announced Tuesday it named Rep. Richard Baker, R-La., as its
                >
                > > president and chief executive.
                >
                > ...
                >
                > > An early and vocal critic of federally sponsored home mortgage giants
                >
                > > Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Baker sponsored 123 bills since
                January 1997,
                >
                > > of which six were enacted, according to GovTrack. The nonpartisan,
                >
                > > noncommercial Web site called Baker's legislative record average for
                >
                > > House members.
                >
                > http://www.forbes. com/feeds/ ap/2008/01/ 15/ap4534727. html
                >
                >
                >
                > I have always billed the site myself as "nonpartisan, noncommercial" .
                >
                > However, in light of the fact that through the advertising on the
                site I
                >
                > am now turning a nontrivial profit (though by no means anything to live
                >
                > off of), at what point, if any, should I stop calling it noncommercial?
                >
                >
                >
                > The ultimate goal is certainly not to make money with the site. I need
                >
                > *some* advertising so I can at least keep up with the cost of the
                server
                >
                > itself (now $200/mo.). But if advertising brings in more, I don't think
                >
                > I have a responsibility to tune the advertising down so it's "just
                enough".
                >
                >
                >
                > What does it really mean to call something noncommercial?
                >
                >
                >
                > --
                >
                > - Josh Tauberer
                >
                > - GovTrack.us
                >
                >
                >
                > http://razor. occams.info
                >
                >
                >
                > "Yields falsehood when preceded by its quotation! Yields
                >
                > falsehood when preceded by its quotation!" Achilles to
                >
                > Tortoise (in "G�del, Escher, Bach" by Douglas Hofstadter)
                >
                >
                >
                >
                >
                >
                >
                >
                >
                >
                >
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