Craig Newmark Makes New List for Congress

By Roy Mark  |  Posted 2008-10-03

Craig Newmark Makes New List for Congress

WASHINGTON-Craig Newmark is getting political, even though the Craigslist founder readily admits, "Most people don't want to be bothered by politics, including myself." Nevertheless, Newmark is banging the drum for Barack Obama and urging young voters to register to vote.

"We need them to bail out our collective baby boomer butts," the 55-year-old Newmark said at an Oct. 3 appearance at Google's Washington headquarters. "I really need the kids to come out and vote. Also, I need them to get off my lawn, but that's another issue."

Newmark followed his Google appearance with a National Press Club gig, again calling for the "kids" to lead a "network grassroots democracy" that will drive elected officials to be more responsive and transparent through the Internet.

"Everything the government does should be online," Newmark said. "It would be great if everyone could figure out the connection between money and politics."

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Newmark is doing his best to make that happen, joining the board of the Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit founded in 2006 with the idea that citizens can be their own congressional watchdogs. Since its founding, Sunlight has funded,,, and The sites make information available online about members of Congress, their staff, legislation, federal spending and lobbyists.

Another favorite site of Newmark's is, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. Accepting no funding from business corporations, labor unions, political parties, lobbying organizations or individuals, endeavors to monitor the factual accuracy of what is said by major U.S. politicians in TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews and news releases. The site has already posted a fact check about the Oct. 2 vice presidential debate between U.S. Sen. Joe Biden and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

"This is a chance for technology and human passion to get serious about participatory democracy, to get directly involved," Newmark said. "This election is the beginning of a transition from top-down power to bottom-up power. It is unstoppable regardless of who wins, sort of an evolutionary development."

Craig Newmark Makes New List for Congress

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The ultimate tool for participatory democracy, Newmark stressed, is the Internet. "Any politician or corporate leader needs to know the Internet. If not, they're out of touch," he said.

Congress, Newmark said, is desperately in need of getting in touch. With millions of e-mails flooding Capitol Hill over the Wall Street bailout bill, the problem for lawmakers was the ability to distinguish between "known constituents" and "click-to-complain" form letters from lobbying groups.

"You've got to have staff members who are monitoring the Internet, people who know what's the buzz," Newmark said. "You need people to filter out the bad stuff and filter in the good stuff."

Congress also needs to identify "authentic constituent communities" and to develop bulletin boards and forums to let those constituencies have a voice.

Now, if only Newmark can persuade the U.S. Senate to buy into his ideas. He and the Sunlight Foundation are actively working the chamber to win passage of the Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act (S. 223), which would require members of the Senate to electronically file their campaign finance reports as the U.S. House and presidential candidates already do.

"They do it on paper now. Big deal, you're not really going to be able to search the paper," he said.

Although the legislation enjoys wide support, Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., has placed a hold on the bill. Ensign insists he'll remove the hold when an amendment is added to the bill that would require that groups filing ethics complaints against senators reveal their financing sources. Supporters of the legislation complain that Ensign just wants to throw a poison pill into the bill.

"Hey, just pass the thing. Otherwise, it looks like they are trying to hide something," Newmark said.

Newmark's opinion of the bill is just another example of the self-described "Libertarian moderate" already practicing transparency when it comes to his own politics. 

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