What Makes Someone a Bubble Baron?
By Kevin Connor  •  Mar 03, 2010 at 10:34 EST

The Bubble Barons investigation launched last week by AlterNet and LittleSis.org has gotten off to a fast start, with over 250 citizen journalists signed up to track down information on the 67 bubble barons we’ve identified. In less than a week, the research group has made over 500 edits to the LittleSis database, building out data on everything from the family ties of Dennis Washington to the investments and donations of Stephen Schwarzman. More than 30 analysts have participated in LittleSis.org research trainings.

You can follow the group’s progress at the Bubble Baron research page, which shows recent edits to bubble barons’ profiles, basic information and updates for the group, and notes from Bubble Baron analysts.

For those of you who haven’t signed up, it’s still not too late to get involved: click here to sign up for the Bubble Barons investigation.

What does it take for someone to be deemed a bubble baron? I used three main criteria when creating the list, drawing on Forbes’ lists of the 400 wealthiest Americans: Read more…

Project update: over 100 White House visitors profiled
By Kevin Connor  •  Jan 12, 2010 at 18:50 EST

Last Thursday, inspired by the release of White House visitor logs, we launched a new project to compile information on visitors to the Obama White House.

In less than a week, analysts Priscilla, sundin, ellenp, and destructor have built and updated profiles for over 100 individuals who have met with the president or one of his top advisers (so far, chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and chief economic adviser Larry Summers).  We profiled visitors that met with one of these individuals in a small group setting (ten or less total people).

Here are some initial observations about the types of people that get to meet with top White House officials (specifically the president, Summers, and Emanuel):

Read more…

New project: Tracking Obama insiders
By Kevin Connor  •  Jan 07, 2010 at 13:49 EST

It’s been almost one year since Obama’s inauguration — and one year since LittleSis launched. At this time last year we were scrambling to add up-to-date data about the past two presidential administrations, and the incoming one, in preparation for launch. We built lists like this, this, and this (with lots of help from our friends), and managed to include some presidential data at a time when the American presidency naturally had everyone’s attention.

It seems appropriate, approaching this anniversary, to return to this project of collecting and updating data on the Obama administration.  The release of White House visitor logs, and the awesome new tool Sunlight Foundation put together to help research the visitors (which cross-references names in the logs with LittleSis data), also seem like invitations to improve our data on the administration.

Starting today, we’ll be spotlighting Inside the Obama administration, the LittleSis research group focused on compiling accurate and up-to-date information on the current administration. Priscilla has led the group over the past few months, doing a tremendous job updating profiles for Treasury and White House officials. But there is lots more to be done, especially now that we have the visitor data to work with — we need your help!

Read more…

The White House’s Google Calendar
By Kevin Connor  •  Jan 05, 2010 at 10:41 EST

The White House’s most recent monthly release of visitor records was extraordinary in that it included a comprehensive dump of records for the second half of September 2009. Previous releases were limited to records for names specifically requested by reporters and other watchdogs; this one includes every single visitor record. Kudos to the White House for releasing the data (still wondering about that tunnel, though).

At 30,000 records, the data set is bulky, so I used a spreadsheet to pare it down a bit (eliminating 20,000 records for people who toured the White House), then uploaded some select records into a Google Calendar for easy viewing.

Read more…

Wall Street’s tunnel to the White House
By Kevin Connor  •  Dec 07, 2009 at 14:29 EST

Are Treasury officials and their friends able to avoid appearing on the White House’s newly-released visitor logs?

I raise this question because there is a tunnel between the White House and the Treasury Department, and it appears to be used quite frequently by members of the administration’s economic team. See this New York Times article on White House economic advisor Brian Deese:

Several times a day he speed-walks to Treasury, taking a shortcut through the tunnel under the colonnade, near the kitchens.

Ronald Kessler’s Inside the White House has more (colorful) background on the tunnel.

Deese’s comings and goings would not show up on the logs, since he works in the White House. But do Treasury officials avoid appearing on White House visitor logs when they use the tunnel? More troubling: can Wall Street executives and other friends of the Treasury “speed-walk” the tunnel with them?

It’s not just the existence of the tunnel that makes me wonder if the Wall Street wing of the Obama administration is immune to these transparency efforts; the possibility of an exception is borne out by the data.

Read more…

Catch this CrocTail
By Matthew Skomarovsky  •  Jun 15, 2009 at 14:42 EST

Last week our friends at CorpWatch unveiled their great new API, which extracts corporate subsidiary information from SEC filings and makes the data available for the world to navigate in a structured way — or to reuse. SEC 10-K filings are notoriously difficult to parse with automated scripts (that’s where LittleSis gets its corporate boards and executives from, and believe us, even that is quite tough), so this is a very useful service.

Read more…

WaPo asks: Who Runs Gov?
By Kevin Connor  •  Jan 23, 2009 at 12:17 EST

Yesterday’s launch of WhoRunsGov, a Washington Post site, marks an interesting development in the history of the transparency movement: it is a groundbreaking attempt by mainstream media to shed light on influential social networks through crowdsourcing and data aggregation.

From the site:

WhoRunsGov.com offers a unique look at the world of Washington through its key players and personalities. It’s your window into how deals get made and policy is shaped in the new Obama administration that is remaking the nation’s capital.

You can browse profiles of rainmakers, look at lists of their key associates (on the lower right), and follow links to other sources of data on their voting records, personal finances, and campaign finances. A team of staff editors controls the content on the site, but users with no Post affiliation will eventually be able to submit edits for review.

We are excited about this, because corporate America is on board with an approach to political data that has more traditionally been the purview of not-for-profit groups and small media firms. And imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Not only that, but one of the largest media companies in the country is turning more eyes on the networks that shape policy in this country, and that’s a great thing.

It’s important to note that this site comes in the context of a movement for greater transparency – with significant leadership from the Sunlight Foundation (major funder of LittleSis/Public Accountability Initiative) – that has given rise to sites like Congresspedia, OpenCongress, Sourcewatch, They Rule, Muckety, NNDB, Watchdog.net, GovTrack.us, now LittleSis, and many more, all of which, in one way or another, crowdsource transparency when it comes to elite individuals and networks.

We’re looking forward to the momentum WRG will help generate for the movement. But we do think that similar sites have some critical advantages over the Post, mainly when it comes to offering a broader look at elite networks, encouraging a spirit of collaboration & openness, and deploying advanced technical features.

For instance, asking the question of “Who Runs Government?” without including lobbyists or private sector players is problematic. President Obama has taken laudable steps to keep former government officials from lobbying the executive branch, but the Post is still going to have to deal with the reality of the revolving door and the ways in which it shapes Washington power circles and policymaking.

Sites like LittleSis as well as Sourcewatch, NNDB, and Muckety take a more holistic approach to power and influence in American society, and the Post should follow this lead.

WRG’s terms are also extremely restrictive. It seems somewhat contradictory to offer a guide to key leaders in Washington, encourage users to contribute information and edits, and then claim full ownership of the data on the site, thereby forbidding many forms of productive use. This is, however, what the Post is doing:

5. (a) Except for content you have posted on the Site, or unless expressly authorized by us, you may not copy, reproduce, distribute, publish, enter into a database, display, perform, modify, create derivative works based on, transmit, or in any way exploit any part of this Site…

This is not the spirit of Web 2.0 or the transparency movement, and we hope that the site changes its terms, following the lead of other wikis that scrutinize leadership: Congresspedia, Sourcewatch, LittleSis, and so on.

Finally, the Post has the capital and resources to offer some superior technical features on the site, including visualizations and mapping (a la TheyRule, NNDB, Muckety – and LittleSis, in the near future), browser plugins, and dynamic news content parsing. We don’t see any of this currently.

ReadWriteWeb reviewed the site yesterday and had this to say, in comparing WRG to political data sites (including LittleSis, OpenCongress, the New York Times, Memeorandum Colors, and the UK Guardian’s Free Our Data) that are “doing it better”:

Compared to those kinds of initiatives, WhoRunsGov looks a bit boring so far. There’s a lot of potential though, and we hope to see the Washington Post’s new initiative develop with more impact than it had when it came out of the gate.

We’re also looking forward to further developments, and are interested to see where WaPo goes with this.