The Gallery: 5 Resources for Keeping Tabs on Your Legislators

The Gallery: 5 Resources for Keeping Tabs on Your Legislators

As society continues to demand greater transparency and accessibility from our government, technology is playing an increasingly important role. In a memorandum from President Obama, he calls for the use of technologies to create a transparent and open government, helping to connect constituents with the information that is most important to them.

Tech startups have taken note of this call for change in government and the opportunity for collaboration. Five websites in particular have helped bring civic engagement into the digital age. If you’re looking for easy and effective ways to keep tabs on legislation, political campaigns, what legislators are thinking and how they’re voting, here are the top tech resources you should know about:

1. Politifact.com
Have you ever wished you could know whether or not a legislator was being truthful with his statements and opinions? While we can’t mandate every politician be hooked up to a lie detector test, Politifact comes pretty close.

This website researches statements made by members of all levels of government, including state and federal elected officials, governors, mayors, the president, cabinet secretaries and anyone else who impacts American politics. It then rates the accuracy of the statement on their “Truth-o-Meter.” It also flags statements as a flip in opinion or a broken promise. This is a valuable resource for keeping legislators accountable to their statements and giving the public a reliable way to cut through the smoke and mirrors of politics.

2. OpenCongress.org
For those of us who want more than a singing cartoon to take us through the steps of how a bill becomes a law, OpenCongress can help. This website makes it easy to follow legislation in Congress from the initial introduction of the bill through floor vote.

Additionally, OpenCongress provides you with profile pages on Senate and House members where you can see their bills, voting records, campaign contributions and contact information. This website makes it easy to follow the issues most important to you, identify legislators that support or oppose your issues and contact them with your opinion.

3. Change.org
With a community of more than 45 million users, Change.org is the world’s largest platform for creating and signing petitions that helps to facilitate citizen engagement worldwide. You can choose to create your own petition or browse petitions created by other users on a wide variety of topics, including animals, environment, human rights and education.

Rallying people behind a cause used to require a lot of time, money and infrastructure. But with platforms like Change.org, the vast network it creates is helping giving everyone a voice. It only requires a few steps to create a petition and share it across social media. This is a powerful and professional way to send a public message to your legislators and raise awareness for an issue you care about.

4. VoteSmart.org
With your vote, you have the power to elect someone into office, giving them the job of representing your opinions and concerns. Just as an employer is able to base this important hiring decision off a resume and an interview, you also deserve this same information to make an informed decision. VoteSmart.org provides a very specific profile on every member of the U.S. Congress and Senate, essentially creating a “resume” you can use to determine whether they deserve your vote for the job.

The VoteSmart profile includes biographical information such as full name, birth date, family, religion and date of next election. From there, you can select a key issue from a drop down menu and search for public statements, rating and endorsements and campaign finance information related to this issue. For example, if you want to know how your Senator has voted on bills related to the death penalty, VoteSmart will compile this information into a single list. You will also find contact information for every district office and key members of their staff.

5. OpenSecrets.org
Money talks, especially in politics. In order to be an informed voter, you need to know how money is affecting the opinions of your elected officials. OpenSecrets.org is a website designed to track the influence of political contributions from businesses, PACs, lobbyists and personal donations.

OpenSecrets.org has become the go-to resource for data and analysis on how money is influencing politics. It compiles information from tens of millions of records every year. Constituents can find profiles on their legislators with charts and summaries that compile their fundraising history. This resource is also heavily used by journalists and bloggers who want to keep tabs on the political money machine. With presidential campaigns alone spending in the billions of dollars, the cash flow of political campaigns says a lot about a candidate.

Technology is impacting the way we interact with our government on a daily basis. Increased government transparency, accessibility and interaction are just a few of the benefits to come from these new tech resources. In particular, these websites have created platforms that allow constituents to keep tabs on their legislators and follow the emerging issues that are most important to them. This is one big step toward the future of digital government that will increase civic engagement, inform voters and give everyone a voice.

What do you think? What tech resources do you use to keep tabs on your legislators?

Tom Spengler is the CEO and co-founder of Granicus, an award-winning cloud applications provider for government transparency, efficiency, and citizen participation.


The Gallery is a forum for ideas and examination of matters facing state and local government. Readers, members of the media, academics or the business community are invited to submit guest columns to bailey{at}civsourceonline{dot}com. Member of the public sector? We’re interested in hearing from you too. CivSource does not endorse the views presented in The Gallery, but offers them in an effort to present more diverse coverage. CivSource will review all submissions but does not guarantee publication of all works submitted.

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