A new tool from the Sunlight Foundation identifies the people and organizations appearing on a Web page and reports back on any hits they produce in one of several government databases.
Poligraft lives on your browser toolbar and, in one click, tries to identify the recipients and donors of campaign cash at both the state and federal level. It also checks for lobbying activity by an individual or organization, and may even check for federal grants. I wasn't able to get the tool to report any federal grants back in my random testing.
You could also just use the website to do the analysis if you like.
With articles on the California Watch site, the tool performed remarkably well. In this blog post by Christina Jewett about state efforts to create "one of the first health insurance exchanges in the United States," Poligraft appears to have accurately identified the lawmakers and organizations appearing in the story. It also seems to have parsed out the actors in a stimulus story Lance Williams wrote.
Poligraft is an amazing technical feat that enables users to glimpse the potential footprint of individuals and organizations across multiple government databases. However, anyone using the tool will want to really dig into the analysis to see if it's accurately identifying the actors appearing in the text.
For example, it doesn't identify the state or jurisdiction that a politician represents, so it's hard to be certain the correct one is identified. The same goes for lobbyists and organizations. It's hard to tell whether you have the right organization identified without more information.
Hats off to the smart folks in the Sunlight Labs, and be sure to read about how they did it, if you're into that kind of thing.