The Sunlight Foundation has struck again where the government failed to act. If you've tried to contact your elected representatives in the US Congress, you may have noticed it's not that easy. You have to go through a layer of annoying forms that seem much more designed to get you to not
contact your elected officials. However, the good folks at the Sunlight Foundation, working with inspiration from EFF, have decided to do something about it, working through the forms to create an actual email address for every member of Congress
that avoids having to go through the full form process. So, if you go to Rep. John Boehner's page
you now see the email address that Sunlight Foundation / OpenCongress have given him:
Now, of course, one of the reasons that Congress has made it so difficult to email your elected officials is to deal with the spam problem. If it was entirely public, the fear is, they'd get inundated with spam and that could, potentially, destroy the usefulness of email contact with constituents. The system here seems to be designed to try to minimize that risk, though it may (potentially) limit the usefulness of some of this effort:
The first time we get an email from you, we'll send one back asking for some additional details. This is necessary because our code submits your message by navigating those aforementioned congressional webforms, and we don't want to enter incorrect information. But for emails after the first one, all you'll have to do is click a link that says, "Yes, I meant to send that email."
One more thing: For now, our system will only let you email your own representatives. A lot of people dislike this. We do, too. In an age of increasing polarization, party discipline means that congressional leaders must be accountable to citizens outside their districts. But the unfortunate truth is that Congress typically won't bother reading messages from non-constituents — that's why those zip code requirements exist in the first place. Until that changes, we don't want our users to waste their time.
This is a small step forward, but good to see no matter what.