E-government: closer or colder?

With e-government, as with everything about the Internet, the passionate advocates of putting government services online believed that the 24-hour service window would bring government closer to people.

Early studies have shown that in many instances, people do have a better perception of government when they interact with an agency online. But the question remains: Will this process improve government, or will it automate government into a colder entity than we've ever known?

Campaign donors online

"Speeding Scrutiny of Senate Donors"

NEXT month, after the candidates for president file their quarterly reports about who gave them money and how much they gave, voters will be able to see those reports on the Internet within a couple of days. You can go to the Web site for the Federal Election Commission ( www.fec.gov ), type in the names of neighbors, co-workers and friends, and see their donations. The system works just as quickly for candidates for the House of Representatives.

But as the 2004 election year approaches, one notable body remains exempt from federal regulations requiring quick Internet disclosure of donors: the United States Senate.

The New York Times, Dec. 3, 2003

"Online Campaign Fund Reports Prove Popular"

IN THE last five years, new technology has pushed data about campaign contributors out of file cabinets into the around-the-clock visibility of the Web. Many states adopted the new electronic filing systems with reservations, but most state election officials reported in a survey released today that they worked well, saved money and were popular with the public.

The New York Times, Nov. 25, 2002

"Most States List Campaign Donors Online"

A MERE five years ago, details about campaign contributors typically stayed stuffed in dusty file cabinets in the basements of government buildings. Generally, the only people who saw the files were reporters or opposition researchers paid to study them.

But now, most states are using computers to collect the data or to post the information on the Web, according to a survey by the Center for Governmental Studies, a nonprofit research group in Los Angeles.

The New York Times, Dec. 3, 2001

(links to archive)

"Senate Lobbying Data Is Going Online"

THE Internet has made vast amounts of timely information about campaign contributions available to the public. But these online databases tell only part of the story of money in politics.

Powerful groups like the Christian Coalition and the American Association of Retired Persons may not show up very often in such databases, largely because they use their money to lobby Congress and other politicians on legislation instead. And information about federal lobbying expenditures, which is kept on microfilm, is far more difficult to track than the details of campaign finance.

The New York Times on the Web, Jan. 26, 2000

"Most States Now Offering Campaign Data Online"

JUST four years ago, details on contributions to state political campaigns were locked up far from public view. In Illinois, for example, residents had to travel to state offices, identify themselves and explain why they wanted to view the records.

But now, according to two recent studies, most states are unlocking the filing cabinets and posting details about campaign contributions on the Internet. Illinois, once considered one of the states with the worst disclosure practices, is now viewed as a model.

The New York Times on the Web, Dec. 16, 1999

"Senate Campaign Data Trapped in the Microfilm Era"

THOUGH more and more information on campaign contributions is appearing on the Internet, an important group has ducked the trend toward speedy electronic disclosure: the United States Senate.

The New York Times on the Web, Sept. 29, 1999

"New Rules Prompt Speedy Access to Data on Presidential Candidates"

AS politicians continue to talk about the issue of campaign finance reform, new rules are forcing candidates to provide better access to information about their contributors. This month, for the first time, voters could scrutinize campaign contribution records for half of the Presidential candidates on the Internet the same day they were released.

The New York Times on the Web, July 23, 1999

"Database of Lobbyists Sheds Light on Big Spenders"

THE American Medical Association spent $8.5 million on lobbying in the first six months of 1997. AT&T spent $4.1 million -- slightly more than the Christian Coalition. In the grand scheme of politics, these facts may not be so surprising, but before today, it would have taken a trip to Washington and hours of research to have learned them.

The New York Times on the Web, March 20, 1998

"Once Again, California Debates Putting Campaign Donors Online"

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- In a climate where voters are crying for campaign reform, California legislators are debating for the seventh time in three years whether to give voters a way to get easy answers about candidates' campaign contributions online.

The New York Times on the Web, Aug. 14, 1997

"California Governor Signs Bill To Put Campaign Donations Online"

BY THE 2000 election, California voters will be able to go to the Internet, type in the names of candidates and find out who gave them money under a bill signed into law Saturday by Gov. Pete Wilson.

The New York Times on the Web, Oct. 12, 1997

"Former FEC Webmaster Flies Solo With Web Site on Campaign Finance"

TONY Raymond was a government webmaster six months ago, the designer of a site that was bound to draw millions of visitors and prove especially popular this year: the campaign-contribution site for the Federal Election Commission.

Raymond doesn't work for the government anymore.

The New York Times on the Web, Aug. 30, 1996


"E-Mail Slips to the Bottom of City Hall's In Box"

MOST mayors and city council members routinely receive e-mail from constituents. While they say the messages help them to understand public opinion better, they still give more weight to opinions expressed in meetings, letters and telephone calls, according to a study released yesterday by the National League of Cities and the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

The New York Times, Oct. 2, 2002

"From Parking to Taxes, a Push to Get Answers Online"

WHEN Victor Fernandez moved his music store to a different building in Santa Monica, Calif., he discovered a problem: the parking meters outside allowed cars only 15 minutes. He wanted his customers to have more time, so he went to the city's Web site and sent an e-mail message to officials to ask for meters that allowed an hour.

Within a week, he received an answer by e-mail. The new meters had been approved. Even better, not once during the process was Mr. Fernandez required to fish for the proper official by telephone.

The New York Times, April 4, 2002

"Government Watchdog: Software That Sniffs"

WHEN most people fight city hall, they attend meetings, circulate petitions or file lawsuits. When Murray Craig, a retired programmer, fought his town council in British Columbia, he picked up his old craft and wrote code.

In the end, he created software that his company claims can ''detect government corruption in five minutes.''

The New York Times, July 4, 2002

"Nonprofit Group Teaches Technology to Congress"

WHEN Kimberly Jenkins left San Francisco for Washington, she had no money, a minimum-wage job, a Ph.D. and a pitch.

The New York Times on the Web, Aug. 17, 1996

"When E-Mail Becomes More Than Conversation"

LAST summer, when journalists in Montana obtained copies of e-mail from the governor's office, they found a story they had never envisioned.

A former aide to Gov. Judy Martz was continuing to advise the governor by e-mail, even though he had resigned from his job in disgrace. That aide, Shane Hedges, pleaded guilty last year to negligent homicide after a drunken driving crash in which the state's House majority leader was killed. Hedges, the e-mail showed, was helping write speeches, shape policy and raise money for Gov. Judy Martz from the halfway house where he was serving his sentence.

Online Journalism Review, Oct. 10, 2002

"Eclipsing the Sunshine of E-Government"

THE growth of the Internet and World Wide Web promised greater access to government at all levels. Journalists and the public could roam files at will -- monitoring policy, tracking bills, checking voting records and even querying officials. Citizens could take out licenses and order birth certificates. E-government in the late '90s emerged with great expectations.

Without question, government leaders have largely embraced the Internet. But they have encountered obstacles in recent years to building good government Web sites. Programmers, during the dot-com boom, were too expensive to hire. High-profile hackings terrified the custodians of sensitive databases. Legislatures didn't want to pay for Web sites.

Online Journalism Review, April 3, 2002

"Suits Target Carte Blanche Posting; But civil libertarians see dangers in curbs on anonymous critics"

IN THE fall of 1999, Stephen Moldow set up a Web site called 'Eye on Emerson' to post information about his community. Moldow, who works as a vice president for a bank, describes his site as a free community service.

With his efforts, the city budget and school district budget for Emerson, N.J., became available on the Web for the first time. The minutes of public meetings were available. The site also contained a forum, where residents could discuss local issues under the cloak of anonymity.

But two years later, the discussion in the forum got Moldow sued.

Online Journalism Review, Feb. 7, 2002

"Jury is Out on Online Court Records"

KENT Morlan, a civil rights lawyer in Tulsa, runs a free Web site with a scope of information once accessible only to the law firms that could pay for it.

Online Journalism Review, Jan. 25, 2002

"New Economy: In the next year, the federal government will move to give the public easier online access to data and services"

THE federal government, with its tangle of agencies and regulations, has never played particularly well on the Internet, where fast-flying facts prevail.

As things now stand, conducting a search of federal databases on topics like toxic waste or the safety of frozen pizzas can be a frustratingly complex task.

The New York Times, Dec. 3, 2002

(links to archive)

"New Economy: An effort to untangle the government's haphazard approach to the acquisition of computer systems"

IF you wanted to find out how much money the federal government was spending to clean up toxic waste, you might run into difficulty. The question is simple enough, but the answer could take months to find.

For one thing, half a dozen agencies handle toxic cleanup. But the greatest problem is that those agencies' computers cannot communicate with one another. Their reports cannot be scanned in a single search.

The New York Times, July 8, 2002

(links to archive)

"New Economy: Too much online data may come to mean less online data"

CAN the easy distribution of data promised by the Internet actually bring the type of scrutiny that ultimately leads to less information being available?

That is the question being raised by a new law called the Data Quality Act, which requires the government to set standards for the accuracy of scientific information used by federal agencies. It is the latest move from Washington highlighting the balance of risks and rewards when disseminating information on the Internet.

The New York Times, June 3, 2002

(links to archive)

More Internet/politics coverage:

Internet campaigning

In the early days, scholars watched the Web for signs that it could compete with television as a tool of persuasion. But campaign managers quickly learned that the value of the medium lay elsewhere.

(33 stories)


What is the role of the Internet in a representative government? Can fast online communication improve the dialogue between people and politicians? Sometimes it does. Sometimes it doesn't.

(22 stories)

Electronic voting

In the late 1990s, advocates of Internet voting lobbied to get their systems adopted by election officials. Then came the 2000 election and the national focus on the integrity of voting technology. The questions about security raised by the early opponents of e-voting are the same questions that opponents of electronic systems are raising now.

(11 stories)


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