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The non-partisan research group MapLight on Thursday launched an online project that is sure to catch the eye of many a general counsel. It profiles political contributions from corporations and organizations—as well as the bills they seek to influence. Berkeley, California-based MapLight offers what it calls “company pages” that follow the 200 top contributing companies and organizations, ranking them according to the total political contributions they’ve made. By clicking on the contributor, the reader can see individual bill positions taken by the contributor, and how successful those positions were.   By counting how many bill positions were “won” (i.e., when the pro or con position taken by the contributor on a given piece of legislation carries the day), MapLight ranks the companies by which are the “most influential.” Research director Jeffrey ErnstFriedman explained that MapLight compiles its data from several sources, including the Center for Responsive Politics, and then correlates it with votes. While some data may change daily, other pieces are updated quarterly. The data show that the National Association of Realtors (NAR) is the number one contributor to members of Congress, spending nearly $8.2 million since 2007. The realtors group was closely followed by AT&T, which spent only $15,000 less; and by Honeywell, with a $7.3 million total. The NAR supported 44 bills and opposed 4, with most of the bills related to housing or mortgage issues. They won 26 bills on which they took a position, making them the second most influential contributor. And lest anyone think these pages are just about industry money, the number one most influential contributor was a union, the AFL-CIO. It spent a mere $2.1 million in support of 116 bills, while opposing 34. But it won on 47 of its positions—the most of any contributor. So influence, it seems, is not only about the money. The MapLight company pages also show total contributions from related companies and industries, and contributions made by companies recently in the news for their political positions. One can follow, for example, how much entertainment media like Comcast Corp., The Walt Disney Company, and Google Inc., among others, have spent fighting over the controversial Internet piracy bill known as the Stop Online Piracy Act. For the record, Comcast and Disney support it; Google opposes it. The site currently tracks money and subsequent votes in the U.S. Congress, and for the California and Wisconsin state legislatures. And interested parties can search the website by bill, by legislator, by interest group, and more. Even before adding these company pages, the website had won or been nominated for numerous awards, including the Knight-Batten Award for Innovations in Journalism in 2008. “Every taxpayer should take a hard look at this site,” the judges said. “Never before have citizens been able to so easily track the influences on their elected officials.”

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