Anyone that has attempted to keep a close eye on the work of Congress has experienced the frustration of seeing attempts to sneak new language into a bill hours before a vote, or, as we saw often in the fight against the FISA Amendments Act, seeing legislators disappear behind closed doors during critical moments of a debate. Recently, we watched carefully during the stimulus bill debate for a rumored amendment seeking to allow ISPs to apply copyright filters to customers' Internet connections. And today, Paul Blumenthal at the Sunlight Foundation posted examples of legislators being blindsided by last-minute conference committee changes to the stimulus bill -- changes that allegedly allowed bailout-recipient A.I.G. to issue massive bonuses to executives. During these episodes, the machinery of power is driven behind closed doors, where even legislators are prevented from inspecting the process for errors or corruption.
The Sunlight Foundation's ReadTheBill.org is pushing for a simple solution: Congress should post all bills online 72 hours before before they are debated. With such a rule in place, members of the public would be able to inspect legislation and have a real chance to express their feelings to their elected representatives. As we inspect issues of government transparency and the public's right to know during Sunshine Week, consider signing ReadTheBill.org's simple petition encouraging Congress to take the commonsense step of allowing everyone to read and consider bills before they're made into laws -- not after.