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Track Legislation and Political Influence with Sunlight Foundation Tools: A Digital Tools Tutorial

About This Course

The nonpartisan, nonprofit Sunlight Foundation offers powerful tools for tracking legislation and influence.

Almost every investigative story grows with a root system that you can follow to a state legislative decision. Political reporters and those whose stories have ties to politics must have the tools and knowledge to follow the trails of money and influence.

As Congress and most state legislatures begin new sessions in early 2015, the OpenStates and Scout tools may prove useful as they enable reporters to conduct wide-ranging searches of state and federal legislative data, federal regulatory data, court data and more. Political Ad Sleuth and Ad Hawk, two political ad trackers, help reporters monitor issue ads and identify the organizations, individuals and agendas behind them.

This free digital tools tutorial will enable you to follow the money and unearth the truth as you pursue stories that matter to your community.

See more tools at Poynter's home for digital tools: Try This! — Tools for Journalism.

What Will I Learn

  • How to use OpenStates and OpenCongress to track legislation in all 50 state legislatures and Congress
  • How to use Scout to monitor state legislative activity, federal legislative and regulatory activity and court decisions—even FEC filings
  • How to use Sunlight’s suite of tools on to track influence in government
  • How to use Political Ad Sleuth and Ad Hawk to follow political influence money that often isn’t reported to state and federal campaign finance watchdogs

Who Should Take this Course?

Reporters covering Congress or state legislatures, or covering beats or topic areas that are likely to be subject to state or federal legislation, regulation or court decisions.

Course Instructor

Bill Allison

Bill Allison

Bill Allison, editorial director of the Sunlight Foundation, is a veteran investigative journalist. Bill began his career at the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he spent two years assisting Pulitzer Prize-winning reporters Donald Bartlett and James Steele. He was senior editor of the Center for Public Integrity’s “The Buying of the President” books in 2000 and 2004, and co-authored The Cheating of America with Center founder Charles Lewis. Most recently, Bill directed and wrote “Fixed Fortunes,” a groundbreaking Sunlight investigation on what major corporate campaign givers get for their political investments.


The Knight Foundation

The Knight Foundation

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation advances journalism in the digital age and invests in the vitality of communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers. Knight Foundation focuses on projects that promote community engagement and lead to transformational change.

Training Partner:

American Press Institute

American Press Institute

The American Press Institute conducts research and training, convenes thought leaders and creates tools to help chart a path for journalism in the 21st century. The organization was founded in 1946 with the mission to help the news industry fulfill the purpose of the First Amendment, sustaining a free press in the public interest. That mission continues today.

This $30 course is free thanks to the generous support of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Frequently Asked Questions

What web browser should I use?

The Open edX platform works best with current versions of Chrome, Firefox or Safari, or with Internet Explorer version 9 and above.

See our list of supported browsers for the most up-to-date information.