Follow the gun money with Sunlight tools


toolsIn the complex world of Citizens United, where a single organization may operate a PAC, a super PAC and a social welfare group that spends on politics but doesn’t disclose its donors, it takes many tools for those trying to follow the money. Sunlight’s suite of tools, always evolving and growing, help people explore the many ways that political influence is felt on Capitol Hill and in the states. All of the data that powers our tools is open source and available in a variety of ways — by searching on websites, downloading into spreadsheets, as RSS feeds and APIs. Jump online, dig in and see what you find.

Influence Explorer

Use Influence Explorer to get quick snapshots of gun groups’ campaign finance and lobbying reports and more! Or take a deep dive into the data, downloadable for close perusal. A profile for the NRA is here; data download for campaign contributions by gun rights and gun control groups is here.

Real-Time FEC Tracker

Want to see the latest report filed by a group filed with the Federal Election Commission? The Real-Time FEC tracker is the place to go. A search for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence PAC is here. This tool also allows you to track super PACs and other outside interest groups.  A search for Americans for Responsible Solutions is here.

Party Time

The place to go to find out whether gun groups or their lobbyists are hosting fundraisers for members of Congress. A list of parties hosted by the NRA is here. Lobbyist Steve Elmendorf, hired by the Brady Campaign, has opened his home several times for fundraisers. See our post on how guns and shooting remain draws at political fundraisers even after Sandy Hook.

Political Ad Sleuth

On this site, Sunlight gathers records of political ad buys that the top 50 national broadcast stations submit to the Federal Communications Commission. Anyone can use the interactive features to upload documents from smaller stations and to input data. Here is a search for ad buys by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, one of the most active groups advertising on the gun issue.

Ad Hawk

Think of this like “Shazam” for political ads! This tool gathers together video of political ads broadcast across the country. You can search the website for specific ads or, if you are watching an ad on television, hold up your mobile phone (with app installed) and it will recognize which ad you are watching and give you information about the ad’s sponsors. A search for the National Association for Gun Rights is here.


With Scout, you can set up alerts to notify you when a phrase occurs in federal and state legislation, a floor speech, in regulations, in the federal courts and more. This is the place to go if you want to receive an email when the NRA files its PAC report with the FEC, here, or to find out who in government is talking about assault weapons, here, or to track a particular piece of state legislation, such as this bill to repeal New York’s new gun control law.

Open States

Open States gathers legislative information from all 50 states. Search for bills by number or phrase occurring in the text. A search of one of the bills dealing with assault weapons vetoed by California Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, is here.

Docket Wrench

See text of federal regulations and find patterns among commenters on Docket Wrench, the Sunlight site that gathers information on federal rule-making. A search for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms is here.

Capitol Words

See what lawmakers are talking about on the floor of Congress by searching for phrases directly within the official Congressional Record. A search for “background checks” is here — note the spike in April when the Senate voted against a bill to strengthen background check requirements.