Can the Internet help disrupt the power of Chicago Lobbyists through transparency?

Civic coder Derek Eder  wrote in this week to share his most recent project: Chicago Lobbyists. “This is probably the biggest, most impactful project I’ve worked on to date,” says Eder.” It has a lot of potential to inform and change people’s perception of government and lobbyists, and best of all, the city is cooperating with us do it.”
Eder and Nick Rougeux, working in collaboration with Cook County Commissioner John Fritchey, have earned well-deserved recognition in the open government community for LookAtCook, a beautiful approach to visualizing budget data. Now Eder is onto something new: making the actions of lobbyists more transparent.
“Chicago Lobbyists” visualizes all of the interactions and activities of Lobbyists with the City of Chicago in 2010. Each lobbyist has a profile page that lists clients, fees, expenses, and what they lobbied fo in front of city agencies, including the city council. Eder explains more:
Every company or organization that hired lobbyists (we call them clients) has a profile showing the lobbyists they hired, the actions they hired them to make, and the amount they paid them. Interestingly, the Salvation Army is the number one spender on lobbyists for 2010 at $380,000. All of their money was spent on just 2 lobbyists, and they look to mostly be regarding zoning and land transfer.
Each city agency on ChicagoLobbyists also has a page summarizing the activities of lobbyists them. According to the site, City Council is the most lobbied agency with 152 lobbyists seeking a total of 587 lobbying actions on a wide range of subjects.

Opening Chicago

In 2011, working to open government, the Chicago way now means developers collaborating with the city.
One of the most exciting parts about this project has been our interaction with the city, says, Eder, specifically chief data officer Brett Goldstein.
“After making a rough version of Chicago Lobbyists in late July, we found that a lot of lobbying data was missing from the datasets the city had published,” he said. “We met with Brett and his staff, explained what was missing, and by the end of August, they had updated their data with the pieces that were missing. We then took that new data and updated our site accordingly. With it, we are now able to tie clients to specific lobbying actions and show how much clients paid each lobbyist.”
More information about the project is available on the ChicagoLobbyists blog in “An Open Data Story: and “Chicago Lobbyists V2 Is Here.” Eder
notes that they’ve submitted Chicago Lobbyists to the Apps for Metro Chicago Grand Challenge. If you’re interested in examples of civic coding for cities, there’s no shortage of inspiration there

About Alex Howard

Alexander B. Howard is a DC-based a technology writer and editor. Previously, he was the Washington Correspondent at O'Reilly Media, where he covered the voices, technologies and issues that matter in the intersection of government, technology and society. If you're feeling social, you can follow him on Twitter, like him on Facebook or circle him on Google Plus In addition to corresponding for the O’Reilly Radar, he has contributed to the Huffington Post, Govfresh, Mashable, ReadWriteWeb, National Journal, The Atlantic, CBS News and Forbes. He graduated from Colby College with a bachelor's degree in biology and sociology. Currently, he is a resident of the District of Columbia, where he lives with his greyhound, wife, power tools, plants and growing collection of cast iron pans, many of which are frequently used to pursue his passion for good cooking.

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