Letting the sun shine on earmarks and on detainees

Sunlight is bright today on congressional earmarks, here and across the country, through a special report that examines an entrenched part of Washington culture.

We join at least 75 newspapers in publishing this project, coordinated by the Managing Editors group.

We've highlighted this issue in the Centre Daily Times in recent months, with Washington correspondent Barbara Barrett’s story on U.S Rep. John. Peterson’s $29.6 million for pet projects last year and our reports on money flowing into the county.

This project takes it national, reporting on a staggering amount of money set aside by members of Congress, often with little fanfare or oversight, for projects of interest in their districts.

Some of these projects are worthy, we all would agree. But others? Just think back to the $315 million “bridge to nowhere” in Alaska.

Spending on earmarks has increased dramatically, as this report shows, and new members such as U.S. Sen. Bob Casey Jr., D-Pa., have distinguished themselves early.

Barrett shed light on how much Casey, U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., and Peterson, R-Pleasantville, bring home to accompany this two-day Associated Press package.

The APME partnered with the Sunlight Foundation in Washington, D.C., for this work. The latest in Web-based research tools allowed reporters to track earmarks along with campaign contributions to members of Congress from individuals, companies and the lobbying firms they employ.

The APME, of which I’m a board member, is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year and set a goal of having 75 newspapers publish this work on the same weekend.

Bill Allison, senior fellow at the Sunlight Foundation, said the joint publishing from east to west should have an impact.

“It will put the issue of earmarks front and center before the American people, most of whom don’t like the practice, just when members are hoping to quietly serve up heaping new helpings of pork,” he said.

Will this report jump-start reform in Congress? We can only hope, but most of all we’re hoping it starts discussion in your home and throughout central Pennsylvania.

The system might work at times, but is it good government? There’s no oversight and no control. Let the sun shine on it today and Monday in the Centre Daily Times.

• • •

Sunlight is in the picture for next Sunday, too, as we’ll begin a

investigation titled “Guantanamo: Beyond the Law.”

This report will fill in gaps in public knowledge of those who were detained at Guantanamo and other prisons after Sept. 11, 2001, how they were swept up and how they were treated in U.S. custody.

Over the past year, reporters have conducted interviews with 66 former detainees now living mostly in the Middle East and South Asia. Their report will run for several days in the Centre Daily Times and you’ll find an interactive Web component on CentreDaily.com.

“It’s one of the most ambitious reporting projects we’ve ever taken on here,” McClatchy Washington Editor David Westphal said, adding that it will shine “important and much-needed light” on the prison and the people locked up in it.

That fits right into today’s sunlight theme, and you should look for the Guantanamo reports to start next Sunday.

As always, please contact me with concerns you have about anything in the Centre Daily Times or online at www.centredaily.com. Executive Editor Bob Heisse can be reached atbheisse@centredaily.comor 231-4640. His blog, “Back in Happy Valley,” is on the Web site.