Gumshoe Tools: Sunlight Foundation's Party Time Database

November 5, 2008

Those U.S. representatives and senators really know how to party. Especially the ones running for re-election or under indictment. Now journalists who want to follow the money have a new "Access Washington" snooper-tool to use in their investigative projects.

The WatchDog is shocked — shocked — to learn that plush dinners and receptions are one of the main occasions when big amounts of money are raised as political contributions for candidates (especially incumbents). Thus if you want to trace the influence of industry lobby groups by examining their "bundling" activities, parties are a great place to start.

As lobbying and campaign finance are practiced today, one lobby group or firm may have huge impact by soliciting and collecting contributions to a candidate from a number of other groups or individuals. This may occur, for example, at a dinner where "tables" are sold for $5,000 or more each. Party on, Senator dudes!

A Web-savvy watchdog group, the Sunlight Foundation, has instigated a Wiki-style database for political parties (that's the kind with food and music), inviting all and sundry to post invitation data. Investigative paparazzi and the public can look up parties online — which in conjunction with campaign contribution data may reveal bundling and similar activities that would otherwise escape public notice.

Legend has it that some Hill staffers have been able to subsist for months merely by attending receptions and schmoozing hors d'oeuvres. It may be occasionally possible for a journalist to stake out such functions and even infiltrate them — but the WatchDog urges caution at those costing $5,000/table. Journalists trying to crash posh shindigs at the Dem and GOP conventions this summer got the cold shoulder from security.

If you ever DO get an invitation: by all means, post it to the database.

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