Poligraft: News in, money links out

A new info source, powered by the Sunlight Foundation, makes it almost ridiculously easy to see the links between politicians and their money sources. Oh, how I’ve longed for this. As media coverage of politicians has turned from reporting into copy-and-paste from press releases and pronouncements, little is made of the connections between what politicians say, or vote for, and who contributes to their campaigns.

When a Congressman votes for reduced regulations on banks, for example, I’ve long hoped that news reports would include information about how much money that Congressperson has received from banking industry sources. My fantasy goes something like this: “Congressman X voted ‘no’ today on a bill that would have required banks to disclose more information to their customers. According to the Federal Elections Commission, Congressman X has received $150,000 in campaign contributions from banking industry groups since being elected in 2002.”

Well, of course, that kind of reporting rarely happens. Until now. The Sunlight Foundation’s new Poligraft site takes political press releases, website postings and news reports and annotates them with information that yields critical context.

The nifty thing about Poligraft [you gotta love that clever name] is not just the connections it reveals, but the way it accomplishes the task. At the Poligraft site, you type in the URL for a news article or web posting, or you copy-and-paste part or all of a press release or blog posting. One click later, Poligraft has highlighted politicians’ names, organizations and PACS and posts a sidebar showing “the interconnections among the people, organizations and relationships described in the piece.”

Here’s an example. I pasted the URL from an October 3, 2010 article called, “McCain campaigns with Ayotte, Guinta in Hampton [New Hampshire]. Within seconds, the full article popped up, highlighting “John McCain,” “Kelly Ayotte,” and several other GOP candidates in New Hampshire. In a sidebar called, “The Report,” Poligraft revealed McCain’s top contributing industries [Finance, Insurance, Real Estate] and a link to specifics of industries and groups that have given him money between 1989 and 2010. The Report does the same for every other politician and candidate referred to in the article.

Try it with your favorite, or least favorite, politician. Thanks again, Sunlight.