When advocates, lawyers, journalists, or others want to investigate the influence of campaign finance on public policy, they often turn to a nonprofit with a massive database: the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
The institute's website, FollowTheMoney.org, offers the public access to an archive covering $52-billion in contributions to political candidates in every state over several decades.
Next week the group plans to unveil a new tool that will make it even easier to connect the dots, allowing people to see who has contributed to members of state legislative committees and sponsors of legislation.
Edwin Bender, the executive director, says that will further the institute's goal of providing context so the public can hold lawmakers accountable—and at the same time recognize those who "are doing the right thing."
"That's a critical piece of where we're heading," he says. "We're not doing data just to do data."
Thanks to the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the institute now has $1-million more to further its work, one of nine nonprofits that were honored today with a MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.
The foundation gives the awards annually to nonprofits that engage in work central to its core programs, have previously received MacArthur support, have reached a critical point in their development, and show strong leadership and stable financial management.
As with its "genius" fellowships for individuals, it does not accept or seek nominations.
Investing in Success
This year's awards, ranging from $350,000 to $1-million, went to organizations working in areas including human rights, civics education, filmmaking, forests, and prisons.
"This award recognizes their leadership and success, and it is also a significant investment in their long-term future," Elspeth Revere, a vice president at MacArthur, said in a statement
The National Institute on Money in State Politics plans to use its award to increase its reserves and to move some of its technology to the cloud, making it easier to share with others, Mr. Bender said.
Following are the other winners, the grant amounts, and how they plan to use some of the money:
Asistencia Legal por los Derechos Humanos, which protects vulnerable people from human-rights violations in Mexico's criminal-justice system; $350,000; purchase a permanent office.
Firelight, which grooms emerging minority filmmakers to produce and distribute independent film projects; $500,000; establish an innovation fund to experiment with digital storytelling platforms.
Forest Trends, which develops financial tools and policies to demonstrate to governments and businesses the economic value of forest conservation; $1-million; support strategic planning, development, and communications.
FrameWorks Institute, which identifies the most effective ways to discuss complicated social issues like criminal justice or immigration by conducting research into public attitudes; $1-million; create new partnerships with universities.
Human Rights Center; University of California, Berkeley, School of Law, which uses cutting-edge science and research to investigate war crimes and other human-rights violations; $1-million; expand its Sexual Violence Program.
iCivics, which creates online video games and classroom resources to help students learn about the rights and duties of citizenship; $750,000; establish a venture fund to support innovation.
John Howard Association of Illinois, which monitors the state's correctional facilities and promotes improvements to ensure humane treatment of inmates; $500,000; establish an innovation fund.
Roosevelt Institute Campus Network, a student-run organization that brings young people together with local leaders and elected officials to identify and propose solutions to pressing social challenges; $750,000; modernize its data and communications infrastructure.