Coalition Using New Media to Spur Govt. Accountability

Published April 1, 2009

A coalition of Washington, DC- based center-right organizations has embraced new media technologies to advance their message with the creation of a new Web site, statebooks.org.

statebooks.org¬†uses Twitter, a “microblogging” social-networking site, to aggregate state economic and fiscal policy news and commentary on one simple Web page. Twitter users type a 140-character description of a piece of news, link to it, and punctuate their “tweet” with the hashtag “#statebooks.”

Using a hashtag has the effect of “bookmarking” a tweet, and in the case of “#statebooks” it automatically sends the post to statebooks.org, where users can browse concise chunks of information from all 50 states. The site also includes ready-made HTML code for visitors to embed the live feed on their own Web site or blog.

The site began through collaboration between the National Taxpayers Union and Americans for Tax Reform and soon spread to activists and state-level think tanks across the country. State organizations currently using “#statebooks” include the Texas Public Policy Foundation, Virginia’s Tertium Quids, North Carolina’s John Locke Foundation, and Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Foundation, among a host of others.

Hoping to Boost Transparency

In an effort to expand transparency and accountability in government, statebooks.org organizers hope to get more policymakers involved in the venture. Likely 2010 Ohio Republican gubernatorial candidate John Kasich has used “#statebooks” to communicate his plan for tax reform in the state, recently posting his response to current Gov. Ted Strickland’s State of the State address on the site. Former Iowa state representative Jamie Van Fossen continues to furnish expert updates on legislative proceedings in his state using “#statebooks.”

One benefit of Twitter, the site’s organizers say, is that it provides “live” coverage and can be updated instantly from anywhere in the country by computer or cell phone. Eventually, statebooks.org’s creators hope to have members of every state legislature in the country “tweeting” from the floor or in committee, giving taxpayers access to proceedings in real time.

Such accessibility will allow voters to hold elected officials accountable by peeling away a layer of the information barrier between citizens and the legislative process.

Introducing to Leaders

Eventually statebooks.org may expand to include different sites for each of the 50 states. The current focus is on introducing legislators and policy leaders to Twitter and “#statebooks” and persuading them to embrace this new method of communication.

With the vast majority of states facing serious budget deficits, statebooks.org encourages widespread participation in conversations about government spending, taxation, and transparency. The technology allows lawmakers to share their observations and analyses directly with constituents and for voters to gain facts straight from the source instead of filtered through the media.

Josh Culling ([email protected]) is state government affairs manager for the 362,000-member National Taxpayers Union.