When Lobbyists Write Legislation, This Data Mining Tool Traces The Paper Trail

Most kids learn the grade school civics lesson about how a bill becomes a law. What those lessons usually neglect to show is how legislation today is often birthed on a lobbyist’s desk. But even for expert researchers, journalists, and government transparency groups, tracing a bill’s lineage isn’t easy—especially at the state level. Last year alone, there were 70,000 state bills introduced in 50 states. It would take one person five weeks to even read them all. Groups that do track state legislation usually focus narrowly on a single topic, such as abortion, or perhaps a single lobby groups. Computers can do much better. A prototype tool, presented in September at Bloomberg’s Data for Good Exchange 2015 conference, mines the Sunlight Foundation’s database of more than 500,000 bills and 200,000…


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