Washington (CNN) - When House Republican leaders unveiled their new interactive website, geared towards collecting ideas to shape the GOP Congressional agenda, reporters quickly raised questions about why the site was paid for with tax payer funds when it seemed to be more geared towards upcoming elections.
AmericaSpeakingOut.com is an innovative website sponsored by the House Republican Leadership. People can submit ideas, comment on other people's ideas and vote ideas up and down. It is also highly integrated into the social networks Facebook and Twitter and will soon be available on mobile devices and apps. A point system also adds a sense of competition, awarding badges and encouraging participation.
House GOP Leader John Boehner opened the press conference on Tuesday seemingly with the tone of a campaign. "All across America, Americans are speaking out, but unfortunately they don't see Washington Democrats listening," Boehner said. "The purpose of this project is to give the American people a megaphone to speak out by using the best technology available."
While all ideas are allowed to be posted, the GOP said the conversation is occurring in the context of Republican principles. "What we are asking the American people to do is to participate with us as to how do we apply those principles to tomorrow and the day after," Boehner explained.
Early press about the site noted that it seemed to be the first step in the GOP building a new "Contract With America," which was used to successfully take back Congress in 1994. But AmericaSpeakingOut.com is paid for by tax payer money. Still, Boehner denied the website is being used for the upcoming midterm elections . "I would expect that ideas that come out of this website and the involvement of the members will lead to ideas that we can attempt to implement today," he said.
When asked for a response to the site, Katie Grant, a spokeswoman for House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, was hesitant to comment directly about the new Republican initiative. "Republican opposition to every job creation measure and Wall Street reform shows that their agenda is to stand up for big banks, insurance and oil companies and against helping the middle-class and small businesses" wrote Grant in an e-mail to CNN. "That's not what Americans want, and if Republicans had been listening to the American people before now, they would know that."
Jake Brewer, the engagement director for the non-partisan Sunlight Foundation, told CNN he believes that while the website is a great first step in transparency, it has yet to be seen how it will actually work and influence policy.
"It is a positive thing anytime you create a new listening tool in government," Brewer said, whose organization is dedicated towards transparency and accountability in government. "What remains to be seen is how much listening is actually done."
AmericaSpeakingOut.com is also a ".com" and not ".gov," the usual ending to a government website. Republicans say the technology was just not there in the House for a .gov. The site's platform was designed by Microsoft and is similar to a website they built for NASA. House leaders claim the site does not cost more than other congressional websites and the funds came from the congressional Republican budget.
If there is a concern about AmericaSpeakingOut.com, it would be taken up with the Committee on House Administration. Committee spokesman Kyle Anderson told CNN, "Any complaints regarding content, ethical concerns or other violations will be reviewed through the appropriate process."
Despite the questions, internet enthusiasts believe the site is a step in the right direction. "It's a promising first step to bringing participatory technology to Congress," said Greg Ferenstein, a Fellow at the University of California Center for the Study of Democracy and a contributor for the leading social media blog Mashable. "This is the first time I've seen the GOP trailblaze on the internet."