THE BLOG

Sunlight's Checking Influence: Find the Politics in Your Pocketbook

12/02/2010 11:36 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Sunlight Foundation is proud to announce our Checking Influence tool that gives individuals the power to see the political expenditures of the businesses you frequent. The simple bookmarklet allows users to connect personal spending habits seen on your online bank or credit card statement with the lobbying and political contributions of companies.

As we start to examine how much we spent on Black Friday or Cyber Monday, Checking Influence will let all of us see how effortlessly politics escapes Washington and settles its way into our wallets; often without us even knowing it. We created this tool to help Americans be more informed consumers and citizens. Just as some consumers check to see if their coffee is free trade or if their clothing is manufactured in sweatshops, they can now know if their purchases help fund lobbying campaigns. We're trying to answer the question: When you buy coffee at Starbucks; refill a prescription at Walgreens; or download a song from iTunes, do you know where your money really goes?

How to Use Checking Influence

Using Checking Influence is simple and secure. First, add the Checking Influence bookmarklet to your browser's toolbar. Next, go to any web page that shows your spending transactions, such as a banking site, your credit card statement or Mint.com. Then, just click on the Checking Influence bookmarklet, and it will find the company names on the transactions list and show you the "influence data" for the corporations it can identify -- including political campaign contributions and what lobbying the corporation conducted.

Behind the Curtain

The backbone of Checking Influence is TransparencyData.com, Sunlight's open-source, central repository for federal lobbyist registrations, federal grant and federal and state campaign contributions. Sunlight Labs, the Foundation's in-house team that builds technology and Internet tools to make government more transparent and accountable, developed Checking Influence. The site is built upon the public Transparency Data API, whose data is provided by the Center for Responsive Politics and the National Institute for Money in State Politics.

A Note About Security

We understand that everyone is cautious about banking information online (and rightfully so!), which is why the Sunlight Foundation has taken a number of steps to ensure that Checking Influence is safe to use. Checking Influence uses the same industry-standard SSL encryption that your banking site does to keep your financial information secure and we don't save any personally identifiable information. The tool is simply searching bank statements for transactions with company names that match information from TransparencyData.com.

Please contact us with any feedback and we hope you enjoy playing around with this new tool!