On First Street you can run, but you can’t hide. This revolutionary new database delivers the connections between the people, money, and issues that consume Washington. Launched in early April by CQ Press, a division of SAGE Publications, First Street is soon to become the go-to resource for researching political relationships. It is a matrix of data from CQ Press’s Congressional Staff Directory, Federal Staff Directory, lobbyist registrations, federal elections commission data, census information, and other top-notch political sources.
The connections date back to 1993. According to Chris Austin, account development manager at CQ Press, “20 years of directory information provides a powerful backdrop of the people effecting policy today.” Searchable data in First Street includes more than 240,000 congressional and federal staffers, 43,000 registered lobbyists, 31,000 FED PACs, 33,000 clients of registered lobbying organizations, 18,000 congressional and federal organizations, and 7,000 registered lobbying organizations
The database is organized into four main categories—people, organizations, places, and legislation. Each of the categories can be searched separately or together, through a basic or advanced search option. Searchable data in each of the categories includes:
- People—Lobbyists, members of Congress, and staff in congressional and federal offices
- Organizations—Lobbying organizations, political committees, federal offices and agencies, caucuses, and congressional committees
- Places—States and districts, census information, demographic data
According to CQ Press, First Street allows researchers to visually map networks of people, organizations, and issues; research political figures’ work histories in Congress, federal agencies, and lobbying firms; trace a staffer’s or lobbyist’s connection to issues and legislation; or follow the money by tracking who gave money to whom.
In its simplest form, it also provides thorough profiles of people and organizations. Using Representative Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts as an example, figure one shows the profile of Markey, including contact information and photo, positions held, biography and district information. A second tab in the profile (figure two) leads to a variety of data, such as recent election information, staff, interest group ratings, sponsored legislation, political organizations, committees, and other memberships.
More complex searching of First Street however, can reveal a variety of information and connections. Austin described such a unique search to me, one conducted by a potential client earlier this month. The client wanted to find names of nuclear energy lobbyists who had previously worked for Pete Domenici. Without First Street, this search would have taken hours to sort through older directories and reports. But, using the First Street advanced search, the answer was quickly discovered. As can be seen in figure three, the advanced search provides the option to select particular groups of individuals, such as lobbyists, and search for issues (defined by the Congressional Research Service), such as energy/nuclear, for the relationship connection, such as worked for a particular Congress member, Pete Domenici. Within seconds, five lobbyists were provided with links to their profiles and activities such as clients, contributions, and institutions lobbied.
According to Austin, “First Street is not for the novice searcher. It does require some contextual knowledge of the field in order to be used most effectively, due to the variety of ways to interact with the content.” One such way is through the Coalition Builder. This feature offers a graphic representation of relationships through the use of icons, color, and lines to connect people, organizations, places, and legislation. The colorful icons provide a quick way of seeing relationships. Figure four shows the coalition builder for Representative Markey. Note the color of the icons, blue representing people, orange—organizations, purple—bills, and green—places. The size of the icon indicates the amount of activity between those two items, the larger indicating more activity. Users can filter the visual display by removing one or more of the categories from the Coalition Builder.
For individual users of First Street, a dashboard is available. This feature allows users to store links to places, legislation, and organizations as well as create contact lists and save searches with the ability for RSS feeds. The dashboard is not available for institutional subscribers who access First Street via IP authentication, such as libraries.
Additional features in First Street include:
- Links to federal elections commission for actual PDF filings
- Links to Thomas for bill information
- Exportable contact lists (individual users only)
- Customized network maps
- Information from all lobbying disclosure (LD) forms—LD1, LD2, and LD203, including money from clients paid to lobbyists and lobbying firms, legislation lobbied, issues lobbied, and contributions from lobbyists to politicians.
CQ Press spent more than 2 years and millions of dollars to develop First Street. The First Street team combined manual data analysis and automated computer matching rules in order to enrich the raw data with more than two million connections. Melissa Burt, data analyst for First Street at CQ Press said, “the data used in First Street has many variables imperceptible to computers, including evolving government hierarchies, individuals' position titles and name formatting; therefore the First Street team spent thousands of man-hours identifying connections between people and organizations across time and data sources to create the database.” First Street is continuously growing, both with a constant stream of incoming data and with the addition of more connections. As customers use the site, they will be able to assist in enhancing the database using the “Request a Change” form. Data will be corrected once verified by CQ Press editors.
Future plans for First Street include opening the database for the development of APIs, and growing the database to more data sources. But for now, First Street stands alone as a powerful research tool for researching political relationships and issues. More information can be found at http://firststreet.cqpress.com.
Government information consultant, Peggy Garvin, says, “The fact that CQ is including back years of its Congressional Staff Directory would, I imagine, keep it from being replicated by others. Sunlight Foundation, for example, has http://influenceexplorer.com/, but it doesn’t cover as much as First Street does.”