Panel: Bloggers can expect more victories

Circumstances created the perfect storm for bloggers to drive the passage of a bill to put a list of federal spending onto a searchable database online, a panel said today.

Liberal and conservative bloggers joined forces to push the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act (S. 2590) past several senators’ procedural blocks, which stop a bill from coming up for a vote. The bill mandates the creation of a Google-like search engine and database to track about $1 trillion in federal grants, contracts, earmarks and loans.

“This is a big deal for the blogosphere,” said Tim Chapman, director of the Heritage Foundation’s Center for Media and Public Policy, who moderated the panel discussion. “They’ve never enacted law before.”

The panelists talked about how rapidly Congress passed the bill — considered bloggers’ first major policy victory — and what the future holds for the blogging community.

The future of bloggers’ influence is bright, they said. Justin Rood, writer for TPMmuckraker.com, said he is interested to see what happens next time bloggers push for legislation, after the novelty has worn away. He said the second time may not have the same attention-grabbing effect the movement had this time.

N.Z. Bear, a writer for the blog Truthlaidbear.com, said interest in the bill from different political ideologies enabled a united front. The blogger community saw the legislation as “so blindingly obviously a good thing,” even if they had different reasons.

Bear said he heard about the hold on the bill Aug. 16. He sent e-mail messages to start the effort to call every senator’s office. He said his blog mainly spurred others to make the calls.

“It wasn’t the blogs that made this happen,” he said. “It was the blogs that facilitated it happening.” He made no phone calls to offices, he added. Instead the bloggers were a conduit for citizens to join the fight.

The effort succeeded because it was the right thing to do, Bear said, and also fun.

“We made it a little bit silly and a little game,” but it grabbed people’s attention, he said.

Panelist Bill Allison, senior fellow at the Sunlight Foundation, said his group, along with OMB Watch, will launch a prototype of the search database of federal funding Oct. 10.

The panelists agreed that bloggers will be watching officials closely as the site is built.

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