Political Influence in U.S. an API Call Away

Government watchdogs Sunlight Labs has released a new Influence Explorer Text API. The new API provides rich data on the political influence of individuals and organizations in Washington DC. Last month Sunlight Labs released Inbox Influence, a new tool that allows you to see the political contributions of the people and organizations, while viewing emails in Gmail. The Influence Explorer Text API provides developers with the same data, to build their own political influence applications and plugins.

The Influence Explorer Text API consists of only one Endpoint and it takes only one parameter, the text to process, with a variety of influence data being returned in a JSON format. To demonstrate the power of the API, here is an excerpt from a recent political article:

Last year, as [Rep. Darrell Issa] began recruiting for his committee, he selected Peter Warren, a lobbyist for the student loan industry. Warren had been president and executive vice president of government affairs of the Education Finance Council (EFC), a trade association for student loan companies and nonprofits, since 2004.

Submitting this text to the endpoint:

The Influence Explorer Text API returns:

Analyzing the data returned you can see that Darrell Issa is a member of the House (entity_data.seat_label) and that he's raised $4.7M over his career (entity_data.campaign_finance.contribution_total). Peter Warren is listed a registered lobbyist (entity_data.lobbying.is_lobbyist) who worked for the Education Finance Council. The Education Finance Council lobbies on education issues (entity_data.lobbying.top_issues) and gives about two-thirds of its campaign contributions to Republicans (entity_data.campaign_finance.recipient_breakdown).

Each entity match returns both the standard name (entity_data.name) and the exact string matched in the text (matched_text), as well as the type of entity (individual, organization or politician) and various metadata. Each entity also includes the Transparency Data ID, which can be used to pull back lots more information from Sunlight Labs Transparency Data API.

The API is just a start, and far from perfect. But combined with other government data sources such as U.S. Department of Labor's new service, developers can build extremely valuable applications and data visualizations, that provide greater transparency into how our political system operates.

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