Keeping an Eye on Candidates: Web Tools Monitor Elected Officials and Legislation

Jan 12, 2012

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Occupy Wall Street protestors have been drawing the media's attention to the influence of corporations on the America political system for months. With primary season now in full-swing it seems that the web is getting in on the action. This week has seen announcements from LegiNation as well as MapLight, both of which aim to keep voters informed about what their elected representatives are up to and who is influencing them.

LegiNation is keeping an eye on the folks we've already elected. LegiNation is using a cloud based API to collect unstructured government data from online sources, transform it into structured files and publish the data on its site. According to a press release, "Several hundred thousand bills are introduced each legislative session and move through multiple review stages where new iterations of the documents are produced. Tracking this multitude of large, changing documents and identifying which documents include information important for decisions on a particular subject is an onerous if not impossible manual task. By automatically extracting and applying content-specific metadata using the Pingar API, LegiNation helps stakeholders to find, access and track information that impacts their region, personal or business interests and rights."

LegiNation currently offers BillTrack50 and Chatterslate. These two sites serve very different purposes. BillTrack50 is aimed at companies and individuals with a particular (usually financial) interest in a bill. Chatterslate, on the other hand, is a social venue aimed at fostering discussion and collaboration around issues that are important to voters.

MapLight's new "Company Profile Pages" however, is about keeping an eye on the companies seeking to influence our elected officials. The nonpartisan research launched company pages for U.S. Congress and the CA and WI Legislatures. The new pages profile top contributing companies and organizations, ranking them according to the total contributions they have made, documented bill positions they have taken, and bill positions they have "won." Company pages also show total contributions from related companies and industries.

With the election season now underway, journalists and citizens can sign up to receive this information via RSS feed, making it easier for media outlets and voters to see what his or her representatives true motivations are.

Photo courtesy of Kevin Burkett, Flickr Creative Commons.