New Ways to Follow the Money on LittleSis

Faithful readers may have noticed that a good chunk of our recent research has centered on analysis of campaign contributions made by various power players:

This has been made possible by a new tool we’ve built that makes it easy to match people in LittleSis with campaign contributions compiled by

Ever since OpenSecrets opened its data earlier this year, we’ve been working on a useful little tool to let our analysts import campaign contribution data from OpenSecrets straight into LittleSis. This tool allows users to quickly determine which political candidates a given person has donated to since 1990, and how much has been given to each. It’s easy, for example, to see exactly how Senator Rockefeller likes to spread the wealth.

Our team has been putting it to the test for a couple months, and we’re finally ready to open it up to wider use.

Like all of our advanced features that let you move mountains of data at once, you have to have a good track record on LittleSis in order to start importing data from OpenSecrets. If you’re ready to become a power user, let us know and we’ll hook you up. I put together a short video demonstrating how it works:

To be clear: this tool allows watchdogs, journalists, and other researchers a powerful new angle of analysis for scrutinizing campaign finance data. We are unaware of any other website offering or allowing for a detailed mapping of the political funding networks connecting individual donors and elected representatives.

(OpenSecrets — in addition to cleaning up the underlying data itself — aggregates political donations by industry, candidate, and election cycle. It lets you search for individual donor names, as anyone who’s ever searched for celebrity campaign contributions is well aware. And it produces a steady stream of eye-opening analysis of money and politics in Washington. But OpenSecrets doesn’t focus on aggregating donations around individual donors. That’s why they opened up their data for noncommercial use earlier this year: so that allied projects like LittleSis can build the tools and perform the analysis that they don’t have time for. Better yet, the donation matches that LittleSis analysts make will stream back to OpenSecrets, helping them improve their own data. Needless to say, they’re as excited about this tool as we are.)

Previously, if you wanted to know, for example, which politicians a particular executive has funded, you could search OpenSecrets for the executive’s name and add up the numbers yourself — a time consuming task when you’re looking at a major donor. Now, with LittleSis, all you have to do is find their profile (or create it if it’s not there already) and check a few boxes, and the backend will organize the results for you on the person’s profile page, which you can link to from anywhere.

Moreover, the political donation data you import with this tool will be connected to the broader network of board memberships, family ties, lobbying, and other relationships we track in LittleSis — automatically sharing your work with a larger research community, and allowing for broader study and analysis. You can, as we’ve done with the Chamber of Commerce and Chicago 2016 bid committee, match donations for the entire leadership of an organization, then look at that organization’s funding tab to see who’s received the most from the leadership as a whole. You never know when a couple dots you connect in LittleSis will provide the missing link in a larger story. (It happens to us all the time.)

Drop us a line if you want to help out — there are plenty more dots to connect.