The investigative journalists at the Center for Public Integrity conducted a project on the connection between banks that received money from the bailout and their role in the financial crisis. “Who’s Behind the Financial Meltdown?” analyzed data on mortgages collected by the provisions in the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA) in order to show links between banks that received federal assistance and those that were involved in the subprime lending practices behind the crisis. The project also went on to show which actors were also involved with securitizing the subprime loans. CPI published a map which shows where subprime lending has occurred, as well as profiles of the subprime lenders.

”Who’s Behind the Financial Meltdown” serves as a model that local reporters can replicate to cover this issue in their community. After it was published in May, CPI followed up with a look at the role of non-bank mortgage companies in the crisis and covered the administration’s efforts to slow the continuing foreclosures—while still keeping an eye on the big subprime players big subprime players. CPI doesn’t make the data used in their analysis public, but the site can be used as a tool that local reporters can use to further investigate how this story developed in their area.

The New York Times’s bailout project provides readers with more data on the distribution of funds and the companies that received bailout money. Included is a graphic that shows how the money was distributed by type of company, and lists all the companies that received funds, when they received them, and if they returned them. It’s a good source for journalists to get high-level information on companies that received bailout funds. The Times has also reported extensively on the bailout and journalists can use their articles to gain a more in depth knowledge of the subject and find story ideas that may be able to be localized. Here’s the general “Credit Crisis” page under Times Topics—pretty straightforward and easy to explore.

STIMULUS:

Tracking stimulus spending can be a bit tricky, due to the different methods by which funds are allocated. Some money is distributed directly by the federal government through contracts or grants. Other money is distributed to states in block grants, which are often further allocated to localities and other entities. The federal government requires that first and second tier recipients of stimulus funds report the use of funds, but there are no requirements for reporting allocations after that. For example, if the federal government gives a block grant for transportation to the state of New York, and New York allocates some of that funding to Ithaca to repave the roads, the federal reporting requirements will capture that money is allocated to the state and the city, but it will not capture the contractor who Ithaca hires to do the repaving, nor any of its subcontractors.

There’s no way to know exactly how much money will be spent below the second-tier reporting requirement, but an expert from Onvia—a private company that tracks federal spending for companies interested in bidding on federal contracts—estimates that as much as half of the stimulus money may be allocated to third-tier recipients and beyond. The federal government will also only capture projects after they have been approved for funding, and there really aren’t any defined reporting standards for projects that are being considered for funding. This potentially leaves big holes in the public’s knowledge about the projects that are being funded.

Government sources:

Recovery.gov, run by Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, is the official government stimulus spending tracker. The Web site tracks funds that have been committed, but not yet allocated, spending by category, state, and agency, with some information on the specific projects that have actually been funded. The Recovery Act requires that all first and second-tier recipients report their spending, information scheduled to be posted this month. Some groups are pressuring the government to require reporting at all levels, regardless of tier, but it is unclear at this point if the government will require reporting at this level of detail.

Jaimie Dougherty is a graduate student at Columbia's School for International and Public Affairs.