Researching a U.S. Company’s Government Ties (the basics)

Previous Contracts with the Government

If you need to find out whether a company has ever been contracted by the U.S. government, you can use USAspending.gov and search on the company name to get a quick answer. This is a user-friendly database that will tell you specifically which part of the U.S. government was involved (for example: “Political Section, US Embassy Tunis”). It will also provide the details about the contract and the company personnel involved.

Past involvement in government corruption

A good way to evaluate a company is to see if it has conducted any actions violating laws or regulations. The nonprofit Good Jobs First maintains a Violation Tracker, which is a single source that queries a plethora of U.S. government databases identifying companies that violated local or national regulations.

Political Donations

If the target makes any political donation of at least $200, it is listed in the Federal Election Commission database, but can be best searched by using the Donor Lookup tool at OpenSecrets.org. Depending on whether the donor is a person or a company/organization, this tool will identify the donor’s name, address, occupation, amount of money contributed, and the recipient. Here is an example of the results from searching on a fake last name:

Another great source of information on political donations is the Public Accountability Project, which searches several public deep web databases including property records. This site will also find records for smaller donations in the low two digit range. The website is free but requires that you register for an account.

LOBBYING EFFORTS

If a person of interest is involved in any federal lobbying efforts, the lobbyist will be registered and the contracts with their clients can also be viewed with the same lookup tool at the aforementioned OpenSecrets website General Search function. These contracts and further information may also be available on the Foreign Agent Registration Act database depending on whether the party being represented is a foreign entity.

Revolving Door Between Corporate Lobbyists and Government Employment

OpenSecrets.org tracks when individuals develop conflicts of interest by cycling between jobs in the public and private sectors. Open Secrets maintains this information in a database called Revolving Door. Open Secrets the purpose of Revolving Door as follows:

While officials in the executive branch, Congress and senior congressional staffers spin in and out of the private and public sectors, so too does privilege, power, access and, of course, money.

Use the search options to discover which public relations firms have signed up former White House employees, which lobbyists have brought their interests with them to the powerful appropriations committees, which interests are employing former members of Congress to lobby on their behalf…and much more.

The advanced search will allow a researcher to search by a wide variety of criteria including but not limited to a person’s name, their current or former government employer, lobbyist firm, administration, and congressional committee. You can research any party involved in a government contract but you can also start by researching any company or government office of interest.

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