Untangling the “Influence Web” (With a Click)

For your reading and reporting tool box, an addition: an influence detector, as Poligraft is described by its creator, the Sunlight Foundation (which, by the way, funds CJR’s reporting on transparency). Poligraft is, in Sunlight’s words

a new site that allows anyone to uncover levels of influence in federal and state-level politics and the news coverage of it. Poligraft allows you to connect the dots between money and politics in Congress and in state offices.

It works by simply pasting the URL or text of a news article, blog post or press release and then Poligraft creates an enhanced view of the interconnections between people, organizations and relationships described within it. All in just one click.

As one example, Sunlight Poligraft-ed the recent Politico story, “Senate Democrats punt on spill bill,” so that as you read about, say, Sen. Mary Landrieu’s (D-LA) opposition to a central provision in the offshore drilling reform bill you also see, for one, how much the American Petroleum Institute has aggregated to Landrieu (the Politico piece calls Landrieu a “close ally of the oil industry.”) One could see a reporter running his draft story through Poligraft in search of unexplored angles or connections. Anyone can add the Poligraft “bookmarklet” to their browser toolbar and then, per Sunlight, “run any webpage through the utility.”

And “run any webpage through the utility” I did: I fed the URL for CNN’s story, “Bail set as cursing, beer-grabbing flight attendant grabs spotlight” through Poligraft and while it didn’t exactly trip the influence detector, I did come away knowing the names of Facebook’s lobbyists. (And that folk hero John Henry contributed $500 to Barack Obama.)

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.