Researching Corporations, Front Groups, and Corporate Influence on Government

These links can help you research the influence of business (aka big business, corporations, big corporations) on government, the media, and other areas of life. This information is often difficult to find as this kind of influence tends to be exerted through a wide variety of means such as campaign donations, pseudo-grassroots organizations, PR and advertising campaigns, lobbying, professional organizations, research funding (or obstruction thereof), and more.

While every effort has been made to link to sites that present accurate information, it's important to view everything you find with a grain of salt. Interaction between a corporate representative and a government official doesn't necessarily mean explicit corruption. Political scientists and other academics have debated the extent, forms, and impact of corporate influence for decades. These complex issues deserve careful consideration from the people most interested in building a more just world - activists, researchers, and other radicals. Activists and independent journalists can always post their questions on the main page to get further assistance with making the most of these resources.

For now, this guide will focus most of its efforts on US politics - but that can change if you contribute international resources (domestic ones are, of course, also welcome)!

Categories include: For Starters, Lobbying, Interest Groups, Front Groups, Funding/Tax Info, 527s, "Revolving Door", Think Tanks, Wikileaks Cables, US Government Records, Government Contracts, and Money in Medicine & Science

For Starters
Recent LA Times story regarding the failure of many corporations to fully disclose political spending
From the site: "Despite mounting calls for greater transparency, only a few of the country's 75 leading energy, healthcare and financial services corporations fully disclose political spending, according to a review of company records and state and federal campaign finance reports."

Corporate Rule
From the site: "Corporations are one of the most potent forces dictating and circumscribing how our lives are lived and undermining the survival of the world's ecosystems. Ways of effectively challenging their power and fighting for real democracy are being constricted. This project aims to explore the ways in which corporations exercise power over the decisions made in what we call a democracy, and the ways in which their ideologies and discourses facilitate this by co-opting and/or suppressing people's active democratic participation."

Open Secrets Lobbying Database
From the site: "In addition to campaign contributions to elected officials and candidates, companies, labor unions, and other organizations spend billions of dollars each year to lobby Congress and federal agencies. Some special interests retain lobbying firms, many of them located along Washington's legendary K Street; others have lobbyists working in-house. We've got totals spent on lobbying, beginning in 1998, for everyone from AAI Corp. to Zurich Financial."

Follow the Money's Lobbyist Link
From the site: "There's a K Street in every state capitol. Lobbyists in the halls of your statehouse can access and influence those who make the laws that affect your life. But they aren't working for you; they're working for corporations, unions and special interests who have their own agenda to pursue. Lobbyist Link helps you make the connection between lobbyists and their employers. Take it a step further and see what those employers give directly to candidates to exert additional influence over the lawmaking process."

Interest Groups
Open Secrets Interest Groups - Browse by Industry
From the site: "Which candidates is the computer industry giving to? What are the patterns in tobacco contributions over the last ten years? Where is the political money coming from within the agribusiness industries? You can answer this kind of question here."

Front Groups
Source Watch Guide to Corporate Front Groups
From the site: "A front group is an organization that purports to represent one agenda while in reality it serves some other party or interest whose sponsorship is hidden or rarely mentioned. The front group is perhaps the most easily recognized use of the third party technique. For example, Rick Berman's Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) claims that its mission is to defend the rights of consumers to choose to eat, drink and smoke as they please. In reality, CCF is a front group for the tobacco, restaurant and alcoholic beverage industries, which provide all or most of its funding."

Note: Great collection of articles on corporate genesis of fake grassroots support (aka astroturf).

Funding, Donations, & Tax Information
Media Matters Action Conservative Transparency site: Money Behind the Movement
From the site: "Who's funding the Conservative Movement?" - Search people, funders, and recipients of money such as the National Rifle Association, the Cato Institute, the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, and more.

Follow the Money's Industry Donations - National and State-By-State
From the site: "Money in state politics plays a pivotal role in shaping public policy in individual states and across the nation. We track political donations in all 50 states."

Guidestar Database of Information about Non-Profits
Description on Sourcewatch: Guidestar "provides an online database with basic financial data and sometimes other information about more than 700,000 nonprofit organizations. To qualify for tax-exempt status in the United States, a nonprofit organization must be registered with the Internal Revenue Service as a 501(c)(3) organization. They also must file an annual Form 990 with the IRS, listing their income and expenses for the year, salaries of top employees and other information. Form 990s for the last three years for many organizations can be viewed and downloaded free from GuideStar after registering."

527s aka Political Non-Profit Organizations
Center for Public Integrity's site on 527s (aka political non-profits)
From the site: "A 527 is a non-profit organization formed under Section 527 of the Internal Revenue Code, which grants tax-exempt status to political committees at the national, state and local level. Over the past several years, the term has come to refer to a new form of political organization operating in a gray area of the law. These groups actively influence elections and policy debates at all levels of government, but do not advocate explicitly for election or defeat of candidates."
Additional note: 527s include organizations from all sides of the political spectrum. The Sierra Club is one moderate example. The "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" (which campaigned against John Kerry in 2004) are another. Labor unions often operate in this fashion, for example the Service Employees International Union.

Open Secrets' 527 Site
From the site: "Don't just blame political candidates for all the glossy flyers cluttering your mailbox, for the in-your-face television and radio advertisements and calls at home that interrupt your dinner. Chances are, much of that electioneering is being paid for by one of an untold number of advocacy groups-political action committees (PACs), 527s and other hard-to-track organizations with millions to spend on the 2010 elections. These groups represent a variety of positions on a variety of issues, but they have one thing in common: they influence how you look at the candidates."

Revolving Door
Former government employees working for the corporations and vice-versa

Open Secrets' Revolving Door Search
From the site: "Although the influence powerhouses that line Washington's K Street are just a few miles from the U.S. Capitol building, the most direct path between the two doesn't necessarily involve public transportation. Instead, it's through a door—a revolving door that shuffles former federal employees into jobs as lobbyists, consultants and strategists just as the door pulls former hired guns into government careers."

Site Watch Revolving Door site
Note: Excellent explanation with many examples of how the revolving door works in US politics.

Project on Government Oversight Revolving Door resources
Note: News updates and links related to the revolving door phenomenon.

National Council on State Legislatures Revolving Door Policies
From the site: ""Revolving Door" Prohibitions Against Legislators Lobbying State Government After They Leave Office"

Conservative Think Tanks
Media Matters Action Conservative Transparency site: Money Behind the Movement (Listed twice)
From the site: "Who's funding the Conservative Movement?" - Search people, funders, and recipients of money such as the National Rifle Association, the Cato Institute, the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, and more.

Source Watch Think Tank guide
From the site: "A think tank (also called a policy institute) is an organization, institute, corporation, or group that conducts research and engages in advocacy in public policy. Many think tanks are non-profit organizations, which some countries such as the United States and Canada provide with tax exempt status. While many think tanks are funded by governments, interest groups, or businesses, some think tanks also derive income from consulting or research work related to their mandate.
In some cases, think tanks are little more than public relations fronts, usually headquartered in state or national seats of government and generating self-serving scholarship that serves the advocacy goals of their industry sponsors.
Of course, some think tanks are more legitimate than that. Private funding does not necessarily make a researcher a shill, and some think-tanks produce worthwhile public policy research. In general, however, research from think tanks is ideologically driven in accordance with the interests of its funders."

National Institute for Research Advancement Think Tank Database
Excellent source of basic information & brief descriptions of think tanks from around the world. Not exactly a radical-oriented resource, but nonetheless essential for anyone researching think tanks.

Wikileaks Cables
Cables discussing economic matters

US Government Records & Info
Search through the transcripts of Congressional and Senate hearings here.
Hearings occur at many points of the legislative process (through which a bill becomes a law). These meetings are usually open to the public and are recorded mostly verbatim and published online. You can search transcripts of these hearings to see who testified on a particular bill and what she/he/they said. Be sure to search for the company name as well as any interest groups, professional organizations, or front groups that might advocate on behalf of the company/industry's interests.

Search the Federal Register (proposed rules, regulations, and comments)
In the US, Regulations are made by agencies of the Executive Branch like the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration. Congress passes laws with broad goals, while regulations are used to hammer out the details. These rules and regulations can become law. By searching the Federal Register, you can find out more specific information about how business is regulated in the US (and abroad). It can be confusing to wade through all of these materials so try to be specific in your search.

Government Contracts POGO Contract Oversight Investigations
POGO is an independent non-profit research organization that studies government contracts, among many other issues.

Money in Medicine & Science
Center for Science in the Public Interest Integrity in Science Project
From the site: "The Integrity in Science (ISS) Project combats corporate influence on science and science-based public policy. We scrutinize more than 200 science-based federal advisory committees for undisclosed conflicts of interest, monitor the media and scientific literature for failure to disclose, and encourage the adoption of strong disclosure policies."

POGO: Project on Government Oversight - Integrity in Science Investigations
POGO is an independent non-profit that investigates government corruption in all forms. These investigations focus on the pharmaceutical and health device industries and their impact on government-funded health sciences research.

Drug Company Payments to Doctors
This database by ProPublica tracks payments made to doctors by 8 major pharmaceutical and medical device companies. A worthwhile place to start, although it only captures payments by the companies with 36% of the market share in total.

PLoS Collection: Articles on Ghostwriting
From the site: "Ghostwriting occurs when someone has made substantial contributions to writing a manuscript but this role is unacknowledged. In medicine, ghostwriting is problematical because it often involves pharmaceutical companies (or the medical communication companies that work for them) producing articles that promote the benefits of their health-care products while playing down their harm, and then masking their involvement in the development of the articles by recruiting academic “guest authors” to lend false credibility and independence. Because ghostwriting misrepresents authorship credit and accountability, it is considered to be unethical, dishonest, and a threat to the integrity of the medical literature."

Little Sis
"LittleSis is a free database of who-knows-who at the heights of business and government. We're a grassroots watchdog network connecting the dots between the world's most powerful people and organizations."