Del. Ken Plum: Citizens’ Ability to Know

by Del. Ken Plum April 7, 2016 at 1:30 pm 14 Comments

Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is a commentary by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

A concern in Virginia over who was financing campaigns in the Commonwealth led the state’s largest newspapers in 1997 to create the Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP).

The idea was simply to make public information on campaign finance documents as to who was funding political campaigns. Virginia does not limit contributions to campaigns, but requires that the names and addresses of contributors and the amount of contributions be filed periodically with the state on designated forms.

The advent of VPAP as a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization put that information on the Internet for the public to see. Visit vpap.org to see who contributes to me and to all the other elected officials in the state.

The original purpose of VPAP is a very important one, but its board and staff have creatively turned its website into a very important place to visit if you want to know more about Virginia and its governance.

In addition to knowing the contributors to election campaigns, the website classifies contributions by occupational areas. For example, it is possible to see how much money has been contributed to a candidate from real estate, energy, education, banking, and other interests.

VPAP describes itself as “fiercely nonpartisan.” It does not pass judgment on any of the material it presents, allowing citizens to make their own evaluation of information taken directly from public documents. It presents its information in an easily accessible way with accompanying links and charts to assist understanding.

Want to know who is influencing government? Check their list of registered lobbyists. Want to know results of recent elections with vote counts? Check their website for federal, state, and local election results. See who the top donors are and where their contributions are going.

VPAP’s website also provides interesting information on General Assembly members: length of service, margin of victory in last election, bills sponsored, gifts and paid conferences, committees and other information. A useful guide helps citizens learn about advocacy and how to make your voice be heard. There is even a guide to visiting Capitol Square.

A series of very informative maps provides statistical details on “All Things Virginia.” These include income inequality, health outcomes, cancer incidence rates, broadband access, population changes, third-grade reading pass rates, and other data.

Probably one of its most popular services is its daily clipping service available via email of the top news stories from newspapers throughout the state. This service was started by a private citizen, Tom Whipple of Arlington, and is available early morning each day.

As a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, the Virginia Public Access Project depends on contributions for support. As an open-government organization, it lists all its supporters on its website. I find its services to be indispensable to good government, and I am a contributor. Check out the website if you have not done so already and consider being a contributor as well.

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