June 8, 1995
CAR ON THE POLITICS BEAT
By: Elisabeth Donovan, Miami Herald research manager
Updated October 1997 with new current addresses, URLS and sites
There are lots of places to go to find some of the information you're looking for if you have
to cover politicians, candidates, or interest groups. Whether your scope is national,
statewide, or local, an information specialist can find you crucial leads and data that can
make your coverage better. Here are some suggestions for online sources on the politics
LOOKING FOR SOURCES:
- EMAIL: Profnet can find you someone to talk to about a specific issue or topic: send an
email address to email@example.com. You can call Profnet if you're in a hurry: 800-776-
- LISTSERVS: often include postings from experts who you could contact: some listservs
covering political topics include:
- WORLD WIDE WEB:
- DATABASES: Encyclopedia of Associations (Dialog file 114 or on Nexis) can find an
organization, interest group, or association with experts on issues. Academic Index (Dialog
file 88) or Dissertation Abstract (Dialog file 35) or U.S. Political Science Documents
(Dialog file 93) can find experts who've written about political issues.
LOOKING FOR STORY IDEAS:
LOOKING FOR STATISTICS/SPECIFIC FACTS:
- WWW: Lots of political interest groups have web sites. Check out the addresses above.
There are good pages for political news and background on politicians and politics at
AllPolitics, CapWeb, Project Vote Smart,
and The Jefferson Project.
- NEWSGROUPS that might have good discussion on politics:
alt.activism.d; talk.politics.guns; alt.politics.elections; alt.politics.clinton
alt.politics.sex; alt.politics.white-power; talk.politics.medicine; etc.
- ONLINE FORUMS: Compuserve has a Democratic Forum and a Republican Forum.
Compuserve, Prodigy and AOL have political discussion forums; C-Span, Washington Week
in Review, and CQ have areas on AOL.
- Party Web pages also have discussion groups or chats. See the Republican Party page, the Digital Democrats page; the
Right Side of the Web page; or the Turn Left page.
LOOKING FOR DATASETS:
- WWW SITES:
- The Federal Election Commission has a database of campaign finance. You can
search by candidate, donor, or PAC. Contact the FEC at 800/424-9530 to get a signon: you
pay in advance for online time at a rate of $25/hr. You can download the databases from
recent years from the FEC Web page; even better is the FECInfo site. The Center for Responsive Politics also has interesting
contribution and asset information.
- Lexis has a searchable database of campaign finance records in the CMPGN library.
Included are FEC files , Congressional honoraria receipts, and state campaign finance
reports from California and New York. Lexis also has Incumbent voting records for Congress
and other incumbent background information. (LEXIS-NEXIS is at 800/543-6862)
- Nexis, Dialog, Datatimes and Dow Jones all carry text of articles from newspapers,
magazines, and special interest journals that can pinpoint data on a topic or issue.
- Local or state-based databases can provide information about candidates' background or
in some cases, on campaign funding, election results, etc.
LOOKING FOR BACKGROUND ARTICLES:
- FEC campaign finance records can be downloaded for analysis.
(Don't forget the National Library on Money and Politics)
- State campaign finance records may be available from state elections office.
- See the NTIS book, Directory of U.S. Government Datafiles for Mainframes &
Microcomputers, to locate U.S. government data available on issues.
- To locate Federal statistics online: FedStats. And check the
University of Michigan site.
- Check out state government Web sites for state data: Florida spending records are
available on the Comptroller's Web page; economic
statistics at the Governor's budget page;
election statistics and campaign contributions are available on the Florida Elections
Dept. Florida is publishing lots of
databases including Corporations, Corrections statistics
and Inmate releases, Professional licenses, and lots more.
LOOKING FOR SOURCE DOCUMENTS:
- Newspapers, magazines, technical and industry journals are available for searching on
Nexis, Dialog, Datatimes, and Dow Jones database services.
- I-Quest on Compuserve can find articles from a variety of sources including most of the
- Specific magazines and newspapers have varying amounts of articles on their sites on the
Interent, America Online, Prodigy, or Compuserve. To find papers with searchable
archives, use Margot Williams' page at the SLA News Division
- Search for individual papers on the web at the Editor & Publisher page or the American
Journalism Review page. AJR's page also finds
magazines and broadcast sources.
- CARL Uncover can search thousands of magazines to find references to articles on your
topic and can fax you the articles you want for a fee.
- News Works and
NewsBot can all find recent articles, stories, or broadcast reports
on a current news topic.
- Some interest groups maintain articles from their journals, as well as source data, press
releases, and lots more data. A good example is the NRA Home Page at
LOOKING FOR PUBLIC RECORDS
- Government Documents in the News
- White House Publications
- GPO Access, from the Govt. Printing Office, has databases of laws, regulations, bills,
Federal Register, and lots of government publications.
- U.S. House of Representatives' Internet Law Library finds laws, bills, and documents, at
- Lexis and Westlaw carry texts of laws, bills, court decisions, regulatory decisions and rules,
and many other types of government documents in searchable form.
Besides the above data on candidate's voting records or campaign finance, public
records can provide useful data for candidate backgrounding or public official
accountability. Available data depends on records available in various states and counties.
There are some national companies that will search records in many states, including
credit header searches, etc.
Here's what public records we have available in our readership area:
- State of Florida: Corporation, UCC and Fictitious names filings; driver license, driving
history, accident records, vehicle registration including histories. Business Regulations
licenses (medical, cosmetology, barbers, surveyors, nursing homes, etc.); Division of
Licensing licenses (private investigators, security guards, concealed weapons permits);
Workers' Compensation filings; marriage licenses, real estate. Some of these are now
available on the Web for free: see above.
- Providers for statewide Florida records: Database Technologies, Pompano Beach, FL,
(800)279-7710 (also has national records, and some records from other states, including
extensive records from Texas).
- International Research Bureau, Tallahassee, 800-447-2112
- Compuserve has Secretary of State, Driver License and vehicle registration, by
arrangement with DMV. DMV records also available from TML Information Services at
- County: (in Dade) criminal records, civil suits, marriage licenses, occupational licenses,
building permits, waste collection, recording index, property appraiser. (In Broward)
Criminal records, civil suits, property appraiser. Access to county records is arranged
through the county.
- Lexis, Information America, and Prentice-Hall Online offer databases of state and
county records in most states and many major counties, including real estate, bankruptcy
and corporate records.
- TRW/REDI Real Estate has real estate records from many states.
- Credit search agencies (such as WDIA's National Credit Information system) offer various
public records searches, too, usually with a delay.
- Information America now has a Web search page, called Know-X where you can search for lawsuits, real estate, businesses, bankruptcies, and lots more in
several states. Searching is free or a reasonable cost during working hours; full record
retrieved can be charged to a credit card, and reasonable.
- There are several other Web pages that offer various kinds of public records searches,
among them WDIA, The American Information Network, CSRA Online, and Deep Data. Most of these are fairly costly.