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LegiStorm: A Citizen’s Tool For Watching The Hill

We’re always looking to equip citizens with the best investigative tools possible, and when it comes to keeping an eye on Capitol Hill and the power brokers who run it, there are few resources better than LegiStorm.

Founded in 2006, LegiStorm is a database of the people on the Hill and the money they earn and spend. It tracks the salary of every congressional staffer, all gifts and privately-funded trips that legislators and their staff take, and the earmarks they request. Using LegiStorm, citizens can instantly learn who works for a Senator, how much they make, which lobbying firms or special interests they have ties to, and what special perks and favors they make be accepting. It’s like a public library of the inner workings of Congress.

And not only does LegiStorm provide easy access to these records, it also has a capable and experienced staff ready to help citizens who have questions about how the Hill spends our tax money.

“The staff are more than happy to always help with any research or custom data requests!”, LegiStorm’s Garrett Snedeker told Watchdog Wire. “Everyone has their sleeves rolled up because we’re digging so deep into the data. We know what we’re doing.”

LegiStorm’s founding principles and core vision are similar to those of Watchdog Wire–they’re all about bringing information directly to the people. As Garrett told us, one of LegiStorm’s goals is to make this data as easily accessible as possible–the site’s staff gather, scan, and upload information and make it searchable by staffer, Member, and state.

And why pull this all together? “We want to know what motivated people to take the jobs they take, and make the trips they make, and take earmarks,” Garret says.

Citizens may find LegiStorm especially useful because it puts all the data needed to investigate a staffer’s finances in one place. When trips, earmarks, and other financial perks that come with having access to Congress are added to salary, you can see a complete picture that other tools can’t offer.

Like Watchdog Wire, LegiStorm is nonpartisan–but also like us, they aren’t afraid to blow the whistle when they uncover something suspicious. When LegiStorm came across a Senate staffer who tweeted about his “descent into unemployment” and was subsequently fired, they scanned his social media to see if he had moved on to a lobbying firm or government agency. Instead, they found a number of inappropriate tweets, which were quickly picked up by Capitol Hill’s mainstream news sources.

In addition to its free service, LegiStorm offers a more advanced tool called LegiStorm Pro, which provides up-to-the-minute data on the workings of Congress: who’s been hired, who’s been promoted, who’s now a lobbyist, who’s working on what issues, and who is wielding the power on the Hill today. This service is mostly designed for large firms that work with Congress, but citizens working on a story that requires real-time data can buy access for 3 days for a small fee.

I asked Garrett what advice he had for citizen journalists, and he offered some great insights: “Always, always be curious. Have a healthy amount of skepticism. Even if you see something in the public record, don’t assume that it’s fact and move on. If you’re satisfied with one conclusion, I don’t think you’ve scratched the surface enough.”

 

Kevin Palmer

Staff writer at Franklin Center. Contact me at kevin@watchdogwire.com

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Categories: Government Transparency, Must Read

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