Below, you'll find some ideas and common use cases for The Accountability Project. Please note that property records and voter registration are not viewable without a login. (Read more about signing up here). The first section discusses general techniques for backgrounding individuals and companies; the second is organized by search topic.
The Accountability Project pulls together datasets from a wide array of sources. One of the most useful searches is to run a single name or addresses on the name search page. Here are some general guidelines on backgrounding individuals and companies within our data. For more details on how search works see the search guide.
Name variations: The Accountability Project does not change names from the original data, and does not resolve different name variations for individuals. Therefore a search for "Richard" will not find "Dick." Try searching on common variants of a name. We are considering adding an option to include nicknames in name search results, but this can introduce erroneous results
Quotation marks: Try using quotation marks to search for exact phrases. This can make searches take significantly longer, but may return better results. Note that this can also result in significantly worse results, especially with names. For instance searching for "firstname lastname" in quotes will ignore matches that invert the order as "lastname firstname," a fairly common occurrence in public records.
Filters: Be careful with filters. Many public records omit important details, spell them incorrectly, or even put them in the wrong field. Filtering records for "Florida" could omit records for Florida where the state was not specified.
Search by address: If you have an address, try searching by selecting the address radio tab. Be careful how you interpret addresses with many occupants because these may include apartment buildings, private mailbox locations, or the addresses of law firms or other companies that provide professional services.
But it's important to understand how addresses work: The Accountability Project uses a standardized version of the address to search. If you enter an address, that same standardization process will be run on the search input. You also can search by both name and address, but, in that case, the address standardization will not be run. One solution is to pick an address used as output by already been standardized and search that.
Broaden your search after following results: If you follow a name search result to see the dataset-specific rows, you will be given the narrowest possible set of records matching that entity, e.g. 'HFNWA LLC 1601 E PUMP STATION RD FAYETTEVILLE AR' in federal contributions. But you may get better results by broadening that search to: 'HFNWA'.
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Also see: Many other campaign finance tools are available. If you are simply looking for the total amount given to a candidate or from a particular standardized donor, check out Open Secrets for federal campaign finance or The National Institute for Money in Politics for state campaign finance. You may also want to check ProPublica's FEC Itemizer for on-deadline filings federal filings or the FEC's own website.
What's different here? We've made address a first-class attribute of the federal data, including federal campaign finance contributions and spending. We also include all contribution records reported by pass-through PACs (such as ActBlue) regardless of whether they aggregate over the federal threshold. It's simple to download a csv of results without having to create an account.
State Data: State campaign finance data is a work in progress. Many states require an open-records request before they will release the data. Some states prohibit posting the data online. We've processed about 36 states' campaign contributions. We are working on campaign expenditures and lobbying and hope to post it soon.
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Also see: ProPublica's nonprofit explorer, Citizen Audit, Guidestar, or the IRS.
What's different here? It's free and easy to search and download nonprofit grants and directors / top employees. We're sourcing nonprofit employees and directors from two places: the 990 xml forms and the 1023 EZ forms filed by new nonprofits.
Keep in mind: The datasets from form 990 include only forms filed electronically -- see the respective dataset detail page for more information. A small number of form 990s are filed on paper, but these often include groups that intend to fly under the radar. For full text search that includes these filings, try CitizenAudit.org. Most large nonprofits are required to file electronically and many smaller ones do for accounting convenience.
Addresses: The addresses that nonprofits use may not correspond to their physical location. Sometimes the 990 address will be for a law firm that represents the nonprofit. Also note that the addresses of nonprofit directors typically are, but not always, the same as the nonprofit.
One quick hack: The names that organizations use change. Whenever an EIN number (the unique identifier for a nonprofit) is provided in a 990 grant it is listed as part of the organization's name (in the nonprofit grants) search. These are required in recent Schedule I's, but not in a form PF used by private foundations. Searching by EIN, can help locate grants made under a different name, but will not locate grants made by private foundations.
Code: The xml tax document datasets make use of the irsx project (available on github here) and many of its naming conventions. This can also be installed in Python environments using "pip install irsx".
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About: Voter registration requires a login to view or search. Many states prohibit this information from being used for commercial purposes. Also, states release different information. Run a test search to familiarize yourself with a given state's data.
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About: Property ownership requires a login to view or search.
Situs/mailing address: Many of these records contain two addresses: one for the property site (aka situs) and another for the mailing address of the owner. Occasionally, the same address will be formatted differently for local taxation than for the postal service.
The Accountability Project is also collecting licenses, including the national database of health professionals, FAA licensed pilots and registered aircraft, public employees and business registrations.