5 sites to 'follow the money' in politics

by Ethan Klapper

With the midterm elections just around the corner, here are some great resources for journalists who cover government and politics to track campaign finance, lobbying and related information.

1. Federal Election Commission

It might not be the prettiest site, but the campaign finance data you see somewhere else on the Web likely originates here. This site is useful because of the sheer amount of data dumps it offers from its disclosure data catalog. Seven sets of data are offered here, ranging from “Lobbyist/Registrant Committee Statement of Organization” to “Administrative Fines.” Of course, you’ll also find “Candidate Summary” which contains general financial information about candidates.

2. Influence Explorer

A project of the Sunlight Foundation, Influence Explorer crunches the FEC data and makes it digestible for the average user. It displays a number of attractive, colorful graphs detailing the source of a politician’s political contributions. Users can also sort by company, industry and also look at lobbying information.

3. OpenSecrets

While not as attractive as Influence Explorer, OpenSecrets offers more features. With OpenSecrets, you’re able to track where members of certain congressional committee receive their donations, by industry. The site also features a lobbying disclosure database and information about political action committees. It also tells you, by cycle, who ran the most and least expensive campaigns. OpenSecrets is a project of the Center for Responsive Politics.

4. Follow The Money

While FEC data is useful for those seeking federal office (House, Senate, presidency), it does not exist for candidates seeking state or local elective office. Follow The Money, a project of the National Institute on Money in State Politics, aggregates the campaign finance data from local jurisdictions across the country and presents it in an easy to use format. It also offers a handy API and some widgets.

5. LegiStorm

Journalists love this site, while Capitol Hill staffers notoriously hate it. Why? With LegiStorm, you can look up the salary of everyone who works on Capitol Hill, from the staff assistant to a first term congressman to the chief of staff to a powerful senator. Financial disclosure forms for senators, members of congress and staff are available. In another database, you can search foreign trips that were funded by private organizations. Even more databases have information about lobbying and foreign gifts. LegiStorm is a for profit website.

The sites here offer lots of information useful to both application developers and journalists on deadline. What’s your favorite site? Please share in the comments.