Uncovering the influence


What legislation is there where donors influence?

Have a searchable contribution database around – NMID hired DataMade to build the Openness Project, which is better than the SOS for quick lookups. But you should also have the data on your computer so you can for a story.

A few examples:

  • “Right-to-work” legislation is the epitome of unions vs. big biz, D vs. R. It’s a story about campaign cash.
  • Payday or storefront lenders want to protect their incredible interest rates.
  • The marijuana/cannabis industry is a budding donor.
  • The gun issue in New Mexico

What are the anomalies?

In the gun debate in NM, Everytown gave money to the former Republican House majority leader who’s now the minority leader. They even sent a mailer on his behalf. But he voted against them in his one opportunity thus far.

Follow the Money’s Anomaly Detection tool.

What about voting against your party: When is it clear? What is the motive? Follow the money.

The lobbyists 

What do they have to report in your state? Expenses, contributions.

Who are they wining and dining?

What are public agencies spending on lobbyists?

How many lobbyists are former lawmakers?

How many are married to lawmakers? (Four in New Mexico)

Financial disclosures

Where are the potential conflicts? Here in Florida it’s lawyers, lawmakers and the lobbying lawmakers. What about teachers? Doctors? Oil & gas folks?

I used this great news app tutorial to build a little site to look up lawmakers’ financial disclosures. (Ha ha, after entering all the data on the PDFs.)

A couple of other ideas:

Video archives make great accessories to stories. In this one, the appropriations chairwoman thanks lobbyists for the burgers and fries.

Check out follow the money’s My Legislature tool. You can compare overs/unders to specific committees by industry, for instance.

Get context for your story from National Conference of State Legislatures.

Follow Pew’s Stateline to see what’s happening in other states.

Think Like Influencers

Reporters tend to put state, federal and local spending in separate buckets, but that’s not how companies think.

We collaborated with the AP to show the

extent of the opioid industry’s political influence, looking at state and federal campaign spending and lobbying, but also:

  • Creation of sympathetic non-profit organizations
  • Financial support of national non-profits
  • Model legislation
  • Financial support of scientists

Great Washington Post investigation looked at DEA revolving door and influence on opioid enforcement

Look further down the ticket:

Great Eric Lipton series a couple of years ago showed influence of industry on Attorneys


We focused this year on Insurance Commissioners

Lipton and Robert Faturechi looked at Secretaries

 of State

These officials make decisions that could mean millions -- or billions -- to interests across the country

Look at other avenues for influence:

Inaugurations at the state and federal level attract millions in donations

Even races for state party chair

Other places to look for data:




Corporate disclosures

  • Included sometimes in corporate governance/good government sections

Self-Defined Systems for Tracking Influence