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Re: AP cites GovTrack, and another ethics question

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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 1 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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