in Houston, Texas
Useful links for citizen journalists
Saturday, Apr 21, 2012, 10:55AM CST
By Trent Seibert

Keeping a spotlight on city hall - A guide by investigative reporter Trent Seibert


The FOIA letter generator

This handy site will allow you to produce a quick letter asking a state, local or federal government entity for the public records you want. It also shows you example of records that are public at the state and federal level and provides direct links to your state’s open records law.

Follow the Money

This site allows you to see how money flows through your state. The campaign contributions for statewide elected officials such as state representatives, state senators and governors are showcased here. There is also an analysis of those contributions and much more.

Open Secrets

Here is where you will find how money flows through Congress and the White House. There is so much more here, too: This site is a clearinghouse for data and analysis on multiple aspects of money in politics — the independent interest groups flooding politics with outside spending, federal lobbying, Washington's "revolving door", federal earmarks and the personal finances of members of Congress, the president and other officials.

Political Party Time

This site collects and categorizes invitations to Congressional and Presidential political fundraising events. You can find out where the fundraisers are and (in some cases) who is expected to attend, often before they happen. You can also view the array of invitations that are emailed and faxed by the dozen to lobbyists, Political Action Committee representatives and others around Washington, D.C. and the country. These fundraisers vary from small receptions to lavish getaways -- and none are cheap.

Housing and Urban Development Audits

See how well -- or not so well -- HUD is using your tax dollars in your state. Keep up with audits that many times put a spotlight on waste, fraud and corruption.

Your state auditor
Example: North Carolina

Every state has a state auditor. You can find yours by Googling your state’s name and then “state auditor.” Auditors take hard looks at state and local agencies and find information that is often overlooked by the media. Investigative audits often show waste and fraud. Financial audits can give you detailed information about an agency, school system or city -- and can show you how much debt public entities hold and what tax hikes may be on the way.

Stimulus information and stimulus audits can show you where stimulus money is being spent and how many jobs have been created. The “accountability” section of the site can link you to audits of waste and fraud in the stimulus spending, as well as to organizations that have received stimulus dollars but have not reported how they’ve spent the money.

FBI reports

The FBI’s FOIA page provides the form to fill out to find if a deceased individual or a closed case has an associated FBI file. The site also provides hundreds of links to the FBI files of many historical figures and events.

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