Merry Christmas from Project Sunlight

Bitching about Albany just got about a hundred times easier with the debut of Project Sunlight‘s searchable online database this week. Depending on your level of political geekery and/or civic rage, you’ll want to take a while to look through the raw data about burning questions you’ve always wanted to know, such as… How much money did your local Assemblyman get from Daddy or his connections? (answer: at least $28,000) How much money did NYRI spend on lobbyists this year? ($181,096.00) etc. And needless to say, the Member Items database is going to provide hours and hours of fun.

But there are many other unanswered questions. Paging through the database is sort of like picking up a rock and observing the li’l critters underneath. For instance, what is the WNY Safari Club, and why do they have a PAC? From a quick glance at their website, it would appear that they hunt and eat Western New York’s officially nonexistent and certainly endangered cougar population. (Hm, that can’t be right; maybe I should find out more about them.) And does “Good Citizens for Good Government” imply that the rest of us are bad citizens? Who are these people who are bankrolling America’s Most Dysfunctional Legislature with their nickels and dimes?

I’m already a little disappointed that, for example, an elected official’s campaign contributions are not tallied (i.e., if one would like to easily figure out the percentage of Daddy’s contributions as part of the whole haul). There are probably any number of ways you could slice, dice and fricassee this data and I’m sure that Project Sunlight will come up with them eventually. However, this tool won’t catch on unless it gets used. I encourage state-watching bloggers to check in early and often. This is a real gift, however crude it may be at the moment. Thanks, Santa!

5 thoughts on “Merry Christmas from Project Sunlight

  1. sean

    awright, what am i doing wrong … i wanted to use ‘project sunlight’ to see who’s been putting up the bucks to torpedo the bottle bill, and i can’t call it up. anyone got any suggestions?


  2. Ellen

    Given the relatively unsophisticated setup of the databases at present, what you might want to do is this…

    1. Choose “Browse Bills”
    2. They want a bill number, which one might not know, so pick “Not sure of the bill number? Search by keyword” which bumps you to the Assembly’s own page. (I don’t see any way to keyword-search for Senate items however).
    3. I think the bill you’re looking for might be “A06069.” Clicking on that will get you to the Assembly’s own page about that bill, but you don’t want that – Project Sunlight has its own page. So now what you have to do is take the bill number and plug it back in to Project Sunlight’s “Browse Bills” page.
    4. Guess what? Project Sunlight apparently doesn’t recognize the initial “0” in the bill number so use “6069” instead.
    5. Now you’ll find the listing for this bill, and there’s a tab called “Who Lobbied on This Bill?” that you can click.
    6. Now you have the lobbying corporations on this bill (and other bills, including Senate), but you have to go back and look up each corporation’s campaign fund donation histories to see who they’ve been rewarding lately… which is entire separate step.

    Project Sunlight has this weird caveat: “Carefully examine the results to ensure that you are identifying the group that actually reported working on the bill number of interest. This limitation is due to inconsistent disclosure practices of the agencies. We hope to improve this feature in subsequent versions.”

    Which I totally don’t get.

    But I took the first lobbying corporation I found associated with that bill – 7-Eleven, Inc. of Houston Texas – and then looked up who they donated to: one Sen. Carl Marcellino of Long Island, chair of the Environmental Conservation committee. (I assume 7-Eleven lobbied against the bill?)

    So this database is, as I said, pretty crude and needs much improvement, but I found that info in about 5 minutes or less.

  3. sean

    man. do that search and get a load of the corporations lobbying – presumably – against it. budweiser? exxon mobil? (necause of their 24-hour stores?) so the bottom line is, for the senate to stand up on this one would require the spine to stand against huge money … and has little to do, i would guess, with the reality of countless millions of filthy water and juice bottle that are kicked aside by schoolchildren in the cores of our cities.

    i like project sunlight already.


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