Lobbying for a Piece of the Bailout and Stimulus Action?


First a word of caution: when the title of a database ends with a question mark (in this case, A Piece of the Action?, approach it with some caution.

I’ve tried to put together a tool for tracking the lobbying surrounding the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act, the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act, and whatever other bailouts and stimuli Congress enacts (TARP II? Son of Stimulus?) over the next few months. Using very imperfect records from two online congressional disclosure systems that track the same information in different ways (the classic square filters, round holes government problem), I’ve pieced together what we know, which is better, after all, than knowing nothing.

A Piece of the Action? pulls together lobbying forms gleaned from the search engines of both the House Clerk’s Office and the Senate Office of Public Records. The House filings cover the fourth quarter of 2008, and were accumulated by searching for terms including TARP, Emergency Economic Stabilization and Troubled Asset Relief Program. I would have liked to have included a search for “Economic Stimulus,” but the 110th Congress passed an Economic Stimulus Act of 2008 early in 2008, and lobbyists were still listing it as an interest in the fourth quarter of 2008. The Senate records are all from 2009 — they include mostly registrations (when a lobbying firm gets a new client) and a few first quarter terminations (when a client decides to stop using a lobbying firm).

The records come from two sources because the House and Senate approach lobbying disclosure in very different ways. Substantively, the House records are much better — I was able to pull down all the language lobbying firms listed as specific areas of interest (and easily verify that my search terms were indeed turning up) — plus use the document ID to construct a URL that links back to the original filing. Sadly, the House doesn’t update its site nearly as frequently as the Senate does, so to get anything from 2009, I had to pull down records from the Senate. When the House starts putting first quarter registrations online, I’ll probably try to sub out the Senate data for the superior House data. Ditto with first quarter reports, when they become available.

I used DabbleDB to build the database, and added some features that allow for distributed research — more on that in a minute.