Great App for #ncga nerds

If you just happen to be a bit of a state policy wonk and lover of Apple products (guilty as charged, I’m afraid), then check out the new “Open States” application put out today by the Sunlight Foundation.

Built for iPhone and iPad users, the free app (click here to get it from the iTunes Store) aggregates data from several civic-minded websites (FollowtheMoney.org, VoteSmart) to give  a pretty impressive array of information about various lawmakers, and the bills they introduce.

It also uses GPS to help you figure out who a legislator is in the spot where you’re sitting, as well as links directly to legislator’s campaign contributions, the bills they’ve sponsored and maps of their districts.

And there’s photos of the lawmakers as well, which will at least help me figure out who’s who down at the N.C. General Assembly.

One initial disappointment I had is an apparent lag time in campaign contributions — the most up-to-date information was from the 2010 campaign (which includes money contributed in 2009) and nothing was up yet for 2011. I’d also like to see a bit more detail on how they got the data, which I found to be lacking.

Personally, I’ll plan on checking the App’s campaign contribution figures  (which comes from Follow the Money’s National Institute on Money in State Politics project) against the primary source data housed by the N.C. State Board of Elections, just to make sure the analysis is accurate. You can never be too sure, in my eyes, and best to always go to the source.

Despite that, the App seems like a useful way to get quick intel on lawmakers, and the type of information that most citizens find difficult to find.

Now, if only there was a way the N.C. General Assembly would see about letting the sun shine in a bit more, by posting agendas of committee hearings well ahead of time, archiving audio and video of their floor sessions and committee hearings and offering the public access to Wi-fi inside the N.C. Legislative Building.

That may be a tall order, but a reporter can dream, can’t she?

I’d be interested to hear what others think about the Sunlight Foundation App. Does it do anything more than what’s already out there? Find anything wrong with it?

 

(Note: an earlier version of this post misstated the name of the Sunlight Foundation)

2 Comments

  1. Nicko

    March 12, 2012 at 6:05 pm

    Hi Sarah,

    Thanks for the feedback and great to hear you’ll be using Open States. One quick note is that we’re the Sunlight Foundation (not Sunshine) and we get the campaign finance data from the National Institute on Money In State Politics, which should be cited in the app.

    For more information on the whole project and how to get involved, check out OpenStates.org.

    Cheers,
    Nicko

  2. Sarah Ovaska

    March 12, 2012 at 7:21 pm

    Thanks Nicko, and it really is a stellar resource. I corrected the name above, and apologies for not getting it right on the first go around. My question about the campaign data was more where the institute got the data — I’m assuming the state elections board, but would be nice to know or sure. Hope y’all find that people use this, and great job once again.