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Re: [govtrack] AP cites GovTrack, and another ethics question

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  • 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 1 of 6 , Jan 22, 2008
      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)




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    • 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 2 of 6 , Jan 23, 2008
        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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