With the flick of a pen, government officials spend countless billions of dollars — an “unlimited credit card,” as Jonathan Bydlak, founder and president of Atlas Network partner the Institute for Reduced Spending, puts it. In order to help hold politicians accountable, the organization created its “What’s My Congressman’s Number?” campaign, hosted at SpendingTracker.org, which features an easy-to-use congressional spending tracker app. The Institute to Reduce Spending received a project grant to develop the campaign from Atlas Network’s Think Tank Leadership Training program in 2015.
“This project represents the first time anyone has used new technology and data to push back,” Bydlak explains. “We believe the project will be most useful to fiscally conservative activists and everyday Americans who see the consequences of overreaching government and are looking for ways to hold politicians accountable for their votes to expand it. That said, we have also spoken with many members of Congress and/or staffers who are excited to use the database to track and understand upcoming bills. We are also speaking with an international organization that is interested in applying our framework to track votes in their parliament.”
Users of the “What’s My Congressman’s Number?” spending tracker can access the full list of bills that each legislator has supported, tally their total cost, and view comparative rankings for who saves or spends the most taxpayer funds. Looking up representatives for each local area is as quick and easy as plugging in a zip code. This kind of knowledge gives voters even more power at the ballot box.
“At its core, runaway government spending affects everyone, but the issue can be hard to grasp or follow regularly without the power that new technology brings,” Bydlak points out.
The website also features comprehensive rankings for all congressmen in the United States, and the results can be surprising. Plenty of the biggest spenders, for instance, are known for using the rhetoric of fiscal responsibility even as they fail to apply those principles. The “What’s My Congressman’s Number?” website offers quantitative facts about actual spending votes and the content of the bills each legislator supports.
“SpendingTracker.org builds on the institute’s other work, which is aimed at changing the national spending debate through unbiased and accessible analysis — in other words, taking the issue of runaway spending and its practical solutions to everyday Americans who are most affected by it,” Bydlak explains. “We were the first to conduct quantitative analysis of the U.S. debt limit, which has now been published as a book and informed further work, such as this Heritage research. It also informed the Coalition to Reduce Spending’s successful efforts in getting debt limit reform through the House in the 114th Congress. In addition, we are currently conducting the first-ever quantitative study of US budgeting rules, due out later this year. The project is still too early to have a direct case study, but we’ve been overwhelmed by the response of fiscally conservative activists who are thrilled to have this type of resource available.”