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An all-you-can-eat smörgåsbord of government data

Magnifying GlassBack in the day when I was a young newspaper reporter, we never heard of your Internets and could only dream about the Googles. When we wanted campaign information, we spent days in some dank backroom at the supervisor of elections office, buried under a mountain of documents. And making copies at 10 cents a page added up fast. I can’t imagine what life would have been like if we had access to the online data available at some of the Web sites Katie Donnelly spotlights in her post “10 Projects that help Citizens become Government Watchdogs” at MediaShift.

With the 2010 U.S. elections coming into view, many people are looking for more information about the people running for office — and the individuals and organizations funding these candidates.

Fortunately, there are dozens of initiatives that mine and share the data that influence policy and policy-makers. Many are funded by The Sunlight Foundation, which aims to use “the revolutionary power of the Internet to make information about Congress and the federal government more meaningfully accessible to citizens.”

I’ve heard of and used most of the sites Donnelly lists, including SourceWatch, OpenSecrets and MapLight. But there are a couple interesting finds such as LittleSis, which she describes as an “involuntary Facebook” for government officials. You could spend all day playing around with that site, tracking relationships between politicians, lobbyists and campaign contributors.