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Help Yourself!

by Larry Bush on 03/06/2011

in DIY

Do It Yourself provides links to tools that help you mine data sources to tailor research results for your specific interests. Internet searches are a rapidly growing component for citizen empowerment and this list will be updated as additional tools prove worthwhile.

Pro Publica

Pro Publica won the Pulitzer Prize this year for investigative reporting. They provide data tools to allow you to both view how they researched their own stories and to allow you to dice and slice information of direct interest to you. You can subscribe to their “tools” service to be alerted when new tools are added.

Here is one tool:

Lookup Your Congressmember’s LPAC Money

by Jennifer LaFleur, Marcus Stern, and Dan Nguyen, ProPublica – Sept. 24, 2009

Leadership Political Action Committees are the second-largest source of political money for sitting members of Congress. But there are few rules on how the money can be spent, effectively allowing lobbyists and other donors a back door to fund a politician’s personal expenditures, including resort and travel bills. Our analysis shows that in the 2008 campaign cycle, less than half of the $112 million leadership PAC money was spent on its intended purpose of funding campaigns.

The same link also takes you to a list of the top twenty PACS Leadership PACS for spending by Entertainment, Events and Travel.

Maplight is a site that includes data on campaign contributions to California assembly and senate members as well as by key industry contributors. They also provide a citizen guide for individual research at:

Maplight also offers free research services to journalists, bloggers and nonprofits for data that you can’t find on their site. Amazing!

Follow The Money has it all – or at least enough to satisfy most activists and civic-minded people. It includes the money from lobbyists, from contributors, industry influence, tutorials and “geeky gadgets.” It allows for a search on “point of influence” that reveal whether legislators are receiving contributions from outside their district. The site is based on a state level and happily one of the states given a deeper cut of data is California. It is provided by the National Institute of Money in State Politics. It also has just launched a new site of a one-stop shop for state and local data.

Their California data can be found here:

Open The Government

Open the Government is a multi-faceted web site with tools to research federal policies, programs and spending aimed at further opening the government to citizen accountability. It monitors compliance with Freedom of Information policies,  and it includes a Right to Know database:

The home page is


City data is sliced and diced, including with tools for citizen empowerment, at a San Francisco-based web site

It reports on developments in transparency such as a new investment in a for-profit government transparency project ( that lets people post information on neighborhood needs – including San Francisco.  Govfresh offers other information, including a section on Guides to various platforms at

Other sites of interest






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