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Sources Worth Knowing

Illustration of a student using a laptop

These websites provide useful information for students who are researching topics such as legal rights, immigration, and the environment. The summaries include information about the websites’ content, their founders, funding and political leanings.

Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts

The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts maintains and describes itself as the “administrative arm of the federal Judiciary.” Established by Congress in 1939, the agency is directed and supervised by the Judicial Conference of the U.S. – the policy-making body of the federal judiciary, which is in turn made up of the chief justice of the Supreme Court, the chief justice of each circuit court, a representative from each district court, and the chief judge of the Court of International Trade.

The U.S. Courts’ website provides information for and about the federal judiciary. Visitors can find an interactive map that links to circuit, district and bankruptcy court websites in the Court Links section. The website also has an educational publication that provides an overview of the federal judicial system, including a listing of common legal terms and a description of federal court structure. A more in-depth guide to the federal courts that is specifically geared toward journalists is also provided. Additionally, information regarding judicial vacancies, compensation and history can be found in the Judges and Judgeships section. Extensive statistics including judicial caseloads can be found in the comprehensive library section. The U.S. Courts website even explains procedures and interactions an ordinary citizen may encounter within the judicial system, such as filing a suit or finding a lawyer.

Comments: The U.S. Courts’ website provides extensive and nonpartisan information regarding all aspects of the federal judiciary.

Alliance for Justice

The Alliance for Justice describes itself as “a national association of environmental, civil rights, mental health, women’s, children’s and consumer advocacy organizations” that works to “advance the cause of justice for all Americans, strengthen the public interest community’s ability to influence public policy, and foster the next generation of advocates.” Founded in 1979 by liberal activist Nan Aron, the alliance developed out of an earlier organization, the Council for Public Interest Law. Its board includes representatives from abortion-rights groups, unions and civil rights groups.

The alliance’s most prominent effort is its Judicial Selection Project. Started in 1985, the project has conducted research on and advocated for and against federal judicial nominations. Through this project, the alliance has played a significant role in opposing conservative Republican judicial nominations, including Robert Bork’s failed nomination to the Supreme Court in 1987.

On its main website, the organization offers a series of reports on issues ranging from judicial nominations to campaign finance and gun laws. Additionally, the site offers profiles of nominees to the federal judiciary, as well as descriptions of issues before the courts.

Comments: The organization’s reports, though one-sided, are thorough and well-documented.

Political Leanings: Liberal

American Civil Liberties Union

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, the organization, founded in 1920, is the “nation’s guardian of liberty, working daily in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties that the Constitution and laws of the United States guarantee everyone in this country.” The ACLU consists of two entities, the main one, which primarily engages in legislative lobbying, and the ACLU Foundation, which focuses on the ACLU’s litigation. The group’s agenda is broad, including such issues as free speech, civil rights, capital punishment and many more.

With nearly 200 staff attorneys, more than 500,000 members and supporters and grants and donations that in 2007 totaled $32 million, the ACLU is the largest organization of its kind in the United States. The group has a presence in all 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

At, the organization’s main website, visitors can search (by issue and region) for legislative issues on the ACLU’s national agenda by looking at its Legislative Update. The group’s Congressional Scorecard provides tallies of how lawmakers voted on legislation that was a priority, either for or against, for the group. The site also offers summaries and updates of ACLU court cases. And at ACLU Multimedia, visitors can watch videos on various issues the organization has been involved in, including one that features interviews with former Guantanamo detainees.

The ACLU’s advocacy for First Amendment rights, equal protection, due process and the right to privacy is considered to be well to the left on the political spectrum. However, its dedication to First Amendment principles sometimes leads to its adoption of controversial positions. In 1977, for instance, it filed suit seeking to have several town ordinances in Skokie, Ill., thrown off the books: the laws barred marches by neo-Nazis. (The ACLU won that case the next year.)

Comments: The ACLU’s positions usually, though not always, line up with those on left of the political spectrum.

Political Leanings: Liberal

American Enterprise Institute

The American Enterprise Institute describes itself as dedicated to “limited government, private enterprise, individual liberty and responsibility, vigilant and effective defense and foreign policies, political accountability and open debate.”

The AEI does not disclose donors.

The link on the website to short publications leads to the organization’s briefer research reports and findings; visitors can also find resources classified by research area.

Comments: Its standards for factual accuracy are high, though its reports have a distinctly partisan tilt.

Political Leanings: Pro-business

American Immigration Lawyers Association

The American Immigration Lawyers Association is a professional organization of more than 10,000 immigration attorneys and legal professors. Its members represent a variety of immigrants, including asylum seekers, entertainment personalities, families that wish to bring relatives to the United States and companies wanting to sponsor foreign workers’ entry to the United States.

Founded in 1946, the AILA is an “affiliated organization” of the American Bar Association. But while both organizations say they are nonpartisan, the AILA does advocate in favor of immigrant rights. The group was specifically established “to promote justice, advocate for fair and reasonable immigration law and policy, advance the quality of immigration and nationality law and practice, and enhance the professional development of its members,” its website says, and it clearly sees its goals as being most aligned with those of liberal Democrats. In its 2009 action plan, AILA said: “A bi-partisan coalition will still be needed to pass major immigration reform – the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster in the Senate will require 6-10 Republican votes, and the House majority will not enact immigration reform without the political ‘cover’ of at least 30-60 Republican votes.”

However, the AILA can be a valuable resource for visitors as well as its members. Its website features a page of Web resources. The site also hosts an immigration lawyer search function and offers viewers a database, albeit a limited one, of court cases and decisions relevant to U.S. immigration.

Comments: The AILA is a good source of information on immigration law; however, it, like most immigration organizations, is not unbiased. It is worth noting that the organization’s 2007 annual report reads: “No matter which party controls Congress, the potential for real, substantive immigration reform is limited by internal Republican party divisions, and by the ‘rush to the center’ of most Democrats.”

Political Leanings: Pro-immigrant rights

Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence

The Brady Campaign is the most recent iteration of a gun-control group formed in 1974. The organization took its current name in 2001 from Jim and Sarah Brady. Jim Brady, press secretary to President Ronald Reagan, was shot and seriously injured in a 1981 assassination attempt on the president.

The Brady Campaign describes itself as “the nation’s largest, non-partisan, grassroots organization leading the fight to prevent gun violence.” The group is really two organizations: The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence and The Brady Campaign. The Campaign lobbies on gun laws and gets involved in politics to help elect candidates who share its views. The Center focuses more on using the court system to achieve its goals and represents victims of gun violence and others.

The group gives scores to states depending on whether they have certain gun-control measures in place. Its summaries of what states have done in these areas are generally solid and up-to-date, and much more usable for the casual researcher than statutory language.

Comments: The Brady Campaign’s pro-gun control perspective is counter to that of the National Rifle Association.

Political Leanings: Liberal, pro-gun control

Brookings Institution

Brookings is the oldest and one of the best-known of the Washington-based think tanks, tracing its origins back to 1916 and founder Robert Somers Brookings, a wealthy St. Louis businessman. Its scholars generally have very strong academic credentials.Reports from the institution and its scholars can be viewed by research programs, policy centers and research projects. They fall mainly into the categories of competitiveness, education, migration, health care or energy security.

Brookings says it is funded by “foundations, corporations, and individuals, and to a lesser extent by endowment income.”

Comments: Brookings has a well-earned reputation for scholarly excellence. Its reports are, for the most part, clearly written and can be fine guides to understanding how government programs work, or don’t work. It has a reputation for leaning slightly to the left.

Political Leanings: Liberal

Bureau of Justice Statistics

The Bureau of Justice Statistics is a data collection arm of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs. Founded in 1979, the bureau collects and analyzes statistics related to the nation’s justice system.

Its website provides detailed information on crime, criminal offenders and victims of crime, and also contains reports on special topics, such as homicide trends and firearm sales. The raw data for the bureau’s material comes from the U.S. Census Bureau, the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program, the National Incident-Based Reporting System and other federal agencies. The bureau lists related websites, some of which also provide valuable statistics on the justice system.

The bureau supports the Criminal Justice Sourcebook, which brings together data from more than 100 sources, including the bureau. The site is updated frequently and is a repository for more than 1,000 tables and historical data dating back to 1994.

Comments: The Bureau of Justice Statistics is a trusted source for facts and figures pertinent to federal, state and local crime and the justice system.

Cato Institute

The Cato Institute describes its work as broadening public-policy debate on “individual liberty, limited government, free markets and peace.” For the last decade, Cato has supported Social Security reform through private accounts and championed deregulation of the drug industry. Cato was founded in 1977 by Edward H. Crane, a chartered financial analyst and former vice president of Alliance Capital Management Group. Most of Cato’s funding comes from private foundations and individuals, with only a small amount from corporations.

Cato is thought of as a libertarian think tank, and its scholars tend to argue for free markets and against taxes and government regulation. It also strongly rejects government infringement on individual rights.

Cato’s publications and reports can be explored by research area, which include defense and national security, constitutional issues, and a variety of domestic issues. The institute hosts a separate site focusing on Social Security.

Comments: Cato’s research is thorough and well-documented, and advances a libertarian agenda.

Political Leanings: Libertarian

Census Bureau

The Census Bureau’s website offers far more than its up-to-the-second clocks with estimates of the U.S. and world populations. There is, of course, a general summary of the most recent census. A link from the home page brings up the American FactFinder, which allows the user to retrieve complete census breakdowns of the U.S. population by age, race, home ownership status and many other categories within cities, counties, states or even ZIP codes. The FactFinder is also the place to find complete data sets organized according to congressional district boundaries. The Statistical Abstract of the United States offers an extensive, text-based explanation of the census data, including information about immigration. Census provides annual updates of U.S. household income, as well as data on Americans living in poverty and persons with and without health insurance.

Comments: The Census Bureau provides a wealth of information on Americans, and the website is a valuable research tool.

Center for American Progress

Founded in 2003 by former Clinton White House Chief of Staff John Podesta, the Center for American Progress describes itself as “progressive.” Many of its experts once worked in Democratic presidential administrations or for Democrats on Capitol Hill. According to its website, the center seeks to “combine bold policy ideas with a modern communications platform to help shape the national debate, expose the hollowness of conservative governing philosophy, and challenge the media to cover the issues that truly matter.”

The center’s focus covers a wide range of issues, including energy, health care, the economy, civil rights, immigration, welfare and others. Unlike many think tanks, the center has a lobbying and advocacy offshoot, called the Center for American Progress Action Fund. The Action Fund describes itself as “the sister advocacy organization of the Center for American Progress.”

Comments: The center’s website reflects its strong liberal bent.

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities says in its mission statement that it works “at the federal and state levels on fiscal policy and public programs that affect low- and moderate-income families and individuals.”

The center’s website includes links to reports classified by issue area, such as Social Security, taxes and health policy. It also offers a section analyzing state and local policy.

Comments: The center generally argues for more spending for social programs (or fewer cuts) and against cutting taxes or raising military spending. The facts it cites in support of its arguments are generally solid and well-documented, though sometimes one-sided.

Political Leanings: Liberal

Center for Immigration Studies

The Center for Immigration Studies, founded in 1985, is a think tank “devoted exclusively to research and policy analysis of the economic, social, demographic, fiscal, and other impacts of immigration on the United States.” The center’s research and policy positions are conservative, and it advocates a “pro-immigrant, low-immigrant” position, which “seeks fewer immigrants but a warmer welcome for those admitted.”

Its website contains a number of reports and other publications, which can be viewed by topic, such as immigration numbers, history, legal and illegal immigration, costs, refugees, and assimilation and citizenship. While many of its papers are written to buttress the center’s support for tighter limits on immigration, other publications, including profiles and numbers of foreign-born populations, are straightforward analyses of Census Bureau data. The center’s director of research, Steven A. Camarota, has been widely quoted in the media on immigration matters.

The center has received grants from conservative foundations including the Sarah Scaife Foundation and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, according to those organizations’ annual reports.

Comments: Journalists often turn to CIS when looking for a conservative point of view on immigration.

Political Leanings: Conservative

Center for Public Integrity

The Center for Public Integrity is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that publishes investigative journalism projects on issues of public concern. The center’s mission, according to its website, is to “make institutional power more transparent and accountable.”

Its reports, as well as databases it compiles, are available on its site and disseminated to other journalists, as well as policymakers and scholars. The center has tackled projects in such areas as the environment, public health, lobbying and campaign finance. Investigative reports have included: “The Climate Change Lobby,” about the universe of interests seeking to shape the debate on climate change; “Tobacco Underground,” about the illicit trafficking of that substance; “The Transportation Lobby,” about the obstacles to fashioning a coherent transportation policy; and “Who’s Behind the Financial Meltdown,” about the banks behind the subprime lenders. Every four years, during a presidential election, the center publishes “The Buying of the President,” an examination of the role of money in the campaign.

The center is funded by foundations. Individuals also contribute, but it doesn’t accept money from labor unions, governments, corporations or anonymous donors.

Comments: The Center for Public Integrity conducts time-consuming, detail-oriented investigative work that requires the kind of resources that many journalists at mainstream media organizations don’t have.

Political Leanings: None

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was founded in 1946 to help control malaria and has since become a major player in the public health arena.

Its website includes a wealth of information and official statistics. The Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report section offers CDC reports and recommendations on everything from influenza to the West Nile virus. The organization’s National Center for Health Statistics is an invaluable tool for researchers looking for health-related data. CDC also releases an annual report on health trends in America. Although very detailed and informative, the document is a daunting 543 pages long. Therefore, we recommend that readers first see the website’s “Hints for Easy Use.”

Fast Stats A to Z is an excellent index that organizes data by key terms and can help users navigate the intricate website. In this section one can also find an interactive map that provides state-by-state data. Useful information on births, deaths and marriages can be found under the National Vital Statistics System.

Comments: The Centers for Disease Control is an authoritative and trustworthy source for health statistics.

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

The CMMS, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, primarily administers Medicare and works in partnership with the states to administer Medicaid, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) and other programs. The agency is responsible for the implementation of the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003, which extended a new prescription drug benefit to senior citizens.

On the agency’s website, consumers can search to see whether the health programs cover specific medical procedures or services, find data about Medicare and Medicaid enrollment, and find news on newly implemented regulations and policies.

A good place to start for official statistics on Medicare is the “overview” section of the most recent Medicare Trustees Report. The site also offers Medicare Facts & Figures and Medicaid Facts & Figures, which are periodically updated.

Comments: Be wary of press releases you may find on the site from high-level political appointees, which tend to reflect administration policy. However, nuts-and-bolts statistics regularly issued by CMS career professionals, especially the Medicare Actuary, are generally trusted by all sides.

Committee for Justice

The Committee for Justice says its mission is “to defend and promote constitutionalist judicial nominees to the federal courts and educate the public on the importance of judges in American life.” Its founder is C. Boyden Gray, former White House counsel to President George H.W. Bush. Gray founded the Committee for Justice in 2002 in response to Senate Democrats blocking several of President George W. Bush’s judicial nominees.

The committee ran television and print advertisements on behalf of Miguel Estrada, William Pryor and Charles Pickering, who were among the most controversial of Bush’s nominees to the bench. The committee also ran advertisements opposing Senate candidate Ron Kirk from Texas and presidential nomination hopeful Sen. John Edwards in South Carolina for their opposition to judicial nominees that the committee favored. In 2009, it ran ads opposing President Barack Obama’s first nominee to the Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor. The Committee for Justice has a small budget. Its website reflects the fact that it was formed to generate support for Republican judicial nominees and offers little information that could be considered objective.

Comments: The committee provides a guide to the conservative position in Senate battles over judicial nominees.

Political Leanings: Conservative

Concord Coalition

Founded in 1992 by former Sens. Warren Rudman (R., N.H.) and Paul Tsongas (D., Mass.) and former Secretary of Commerce Peter Peterson, the Concord Coalition is “a nationwide, nonpartisan, grassroots organization advocating fiscal responsibility while ensuring Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are secure for all generations.”

The coalition’s website includes links to reports classified by issue area, including the federal budget, the national debt, Social Security, and Medicare and Medicaid. The site also includes annual scorecards on fiscal responsibility for each member of Congress. Funding for the group comes primarily from individual donations. Coalition staff members analyze data generated by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office and General Accounting Office.

Comments: The Concord Coalition generally argues for spending and entitlement cuts and against unfunded tax cuts. The coalition has championed the so-called PAYGO rule, which would require that all new spending programs and all new tax cuts be revenue-neutral (meaning they must be paid for by equivalent spending cuts or tax increases elsewhere in the budget). The facts it cites in support of its arguments are generally solid and well-documented.

Political Leanings: Fiscally moderate to conservative

Congressional Budget Office

The Congressional Budget Office’s stated mission is to “provide the Congress with the objective, timely, nonpartisan analyses needed for economic and budget decisions.” Its director is appointed jointly by the majority leaders of the House and Senate.

Visitors can search the CBO’s various and respected cost estimates of policy proposals, and they can also find the office’s publications sorted by subject area, document type and those most recently published. The Monthly Budget Review gives figures on rates of federal spending, and the Current Budget Projections and Current Economic Projections give CBO’s take on where federal spending and the U.S. economy are headed. Some CBO studies provide information available nowhere else, such as tabulations of effective tax rates and the share of taxes paid by people at various income levels.

Comments: The CBO has a long history of professionalism and nonpartisan analysis, regardless of which party controls Congress. Its assumptions and projections often differ from those of the president’s Office of Management and Budget, and they provide a “second opinion” on such things as what proposed new legislation is likely to cost or how much tax revenue the economy is likely to generate.

Congressional Research Service

The Library of Congress houses the Congressional Research Service, “the public policy research arm of the United States Congress.” The CRS performs independent, nonpartisan and objective research for members of Congress and their staffs on a nearly endless array of issues. The Librarian of Congress appoints the director of the service, which has a large, knowledgeable staff and receives a sizable budget.

The CRS no longer releases its reports to the general public, but many can be found fairly easily online. The U.S. State Department and independent groups, including the Law Librarian’s Society of Washington, D.C., and the National Council for Science and the Environment post the full text of some CRS reports relating to each group’s area of interest. The Open CRS Network website has a search engine that combines the resources of several, though not all, of these sites. The public can also purchase reports from some websites. And if time permits, individuals can request paper copies of specific reports directly from their senator or representative.

The CRS is acclaimed for its objective and thorough analyses. Authors are aware that they are writing for an audience that includes both Republicans and Democrats, and they are meticulous about avoiding partisanship.

Consumer Federation of America

The Consumer Federation of America, formed in 1968, acts on behalf of consumers through “advocacy, research, education, and service.” The group has 300 member organizations – all nonprofit, pro-consumer groups. The CFA encourages federal and state officials to adopt pro-consumer policies, and it supports grassroots consumer movements and consumer cooperatives. Its Food Policy Institute advocates for a “safer, healthier and more affordable food supply.”

The group investigates a range of consumer issues in the areas of communications, energy, finance, food and agriculture, health and safety, and housing. Brochures, studies, fact sheets and testimony before government entities are available online, including material on legislative activity related to the group’s goals as well as ratings of cars based on their fuel economy. It is a voice for consumers generally vis-a-vis insurance companies, banks and credit-rating agencies, among other entities. The majority of the group’s income comes from corporate and private foundation grants. Membership dues and revenue from CFA conferences account for 15 percent of funding.

Comments: The CFA favors increased government regulation of industry, consumer products and the food supply.

Political Leanings: Liberal

Death Penalty Information Center

The Death Penalty Information Center is a nonprofit organization that publishes reports and conducts press briefings on issues concerning capital punishment. The center says that it does not have a position on the death penalty “in the abstract.” However, the center notes that “we have been critical … of various aspects of the death penalty in the United States.” The website highlights problems with the way capital punishment is used.

Funded in 1990 by John R. MacArthur, publisher of Harper’s Magazine and human rights advocate, the center’s major funders include the J. Roderick MacArthur Foundation and the Open Society Institute – which have funded liberal-leaning organizations – and the European Commission. The DPIC board includes the director of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty and several defense attorneys.

The DPIC site features reports and research on issues such as arbitrariness, costs, deterrence, international practices, mental illness and race. A database of executions is searchable by name, year, race, state and other criteria, and a state-by-state database includes information on death row inmates, executions, clemency and legislation. Visitors can see what crimes are capital offenses in each state and read about those who have been exonerated. The site includes a number of links to news articles, law reviews and other resources, and some information is available in Spanish.

Comments: The DPIC site includes a wealth of information and statistics on the death penalty. Reports reflect an anti-death penalty stance, highlighting the negative aspects of capital punishment.

Political Leanings: Liberal

Department of Homeland Security

The Department of Homeland Security was established in 2002 after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The department’s primary responsibilities are to prevent terrorist attacks and to respond to national security threats. After widespread criticism of DHS’ response to Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of the Louisiana and Mississippi coasts in 2005, the Post-Katrina Emergency Reform Act reorganized the department and its Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Besides FEMA, the department’s component agencies include U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Coast Guard, Secret Service, and the Federal Law Enforcement and Training Center. Its website offers statistics on immigration as well as immigration enforcement actions, text of laws and regulations dealing with border security, guidance on how to become a U.S. citizen, information on current disaster areas in the U.S. and a hodgepodge of other material.

Comments: The department presents the government’s viewpoint, and information from its website should be viewed with that in mind. However, its information and statistics dealing with immigration, federal law enforcement training and the department’s other components can be useful.

Economic Policy Institute

Founded in 1986, the Economic Policy Institute says it aims to broaden the economic policy debate “to include the interests of low- and middle-income workers.”

Although “nonpartisan” for tax purposes — it is a public charity — the EPI’s board includes presidents of several large labor unions that regularly back Democrats for election. The EPI says it gets about 30 percent of its funding from labor unions, 60 percent from foundations, and a small amount from individuals and corporations.

The EPI releases its well-known State of Working America report annually, and the organization offers both extensive statistical data and short summaries of domestic economic conditions.

Comments: The EPI tends to highlight any indication that workers and the poor are suffering, while ignoring any evidence to the contrary.

Political Leanings: Liberal, Pro-labor

Employment Policies Institute

The Employment Policies Institute focuses on labor issues and, especially, the debate over the minimum and living wages. Its studies nearly all conclude that raising the minimum wage would be detrimental to low-income workers and to the economy generally. The group further maintains that the “living wage campaign” amounts to “an organized effort to force employees to inject a welfare mentality into the workplace.” The name and acronym of the group are very similar to those of the much older, more liberal Economic Policy Institute, but its ideology couldn’t be more different.

The Employment Policy Institute’s publications are fully searchable, though new publications appear somewhat infrequently.

Comments: The EPI’s conclusions are consistently sympathetic to business interests.

Political Leanings: Conservative

Energy Information Administration

The Energy Information Administration’s main page provides links to up-to-date energy data by source: for example, natural gas production, consumption, imports and exports, wholesale and retail prices. The EIA’s extremely useful This Week in Petroleum feature offers timely information on fuel prices. The site also leads visitors to state and country energy profiles, monthly and annual energy outlooks, greenhouse gas data. Want to know how much petroleum is accessible via offshore drilling? That’s here, too.

The linked “energy kids” site explains different sources of energy and also features lesson plans for teachers.

Comments: The EIA’s projections of future energy consumption and costs often provide a “reality check” on what’s being said by elected officials and candidates.

Environmental Defense Fund

The Environmental Defense Fund is a nonprofit advocacy group “dedicated to protecting the environmental rights of all people.” It works on issues such as air and water pollution and climate change. Founded in 1967 by a group of scientists who had won a ban on the pesticide DDT, the EDF claims credit for helping get all hunted whales on the U.S. endangered species list and helping push California to enact a state law reducing emissions that contribute to global warming, among other things.

The group’s board of trustees is made up of scientists, economists, business executives, conservationists and philanthropists, and the group says 60 percent of its funding comes from donations or membership and one-third comes from foundations.

The EDF lobbies and produces fact sheets on a number of environmental issues. A unique feature of the EDF is its corporate partnerships, through which the group works with companies on business-friendly environmental innovations. For instance, the EDF established an office in Bentonville, Ark., to work with Walmart on increasing energy efficiency and other projects. The EDF accepts no payment for these efforts.

The EDF has a “Pollution Locator,” searchable by ZIP code or state, which provides information on local and national contamination levels for air, water and toxic waste, in addition to a seafood selector that advises on the best and worst fish to consume from the standpoints of human health and depletion of fisheries.

Comments: The website provides well-documented research on pollution. It tends to favor strict regulatory standards.

Political Leanings: Liberal

Environmental Protection Agency

The EPA was formed in 1970 by President Nixon and Congress as an independent government agency to coordinate and oversee the preservation and protection of the environment. Previously, various environmental programs had been handled by different departments.

The agency’s website contains a wealth of information and is easy to navigate. Visitors can use the Quick Finder to locate material on a particular topic, the Programs page to find out about EPA initiatives, or Laws, Regulations and Dockets for information on legislation. In addition, there is a hub specifically designed for high school students, which includes information on environmental issues and careers, scholarships and awards programs.

Finally, the History page provides links to the agency’s past accomplishments and its annual performance and accountability report, which recaps the year’s programs and finances.

Comments: The EPA’s site contains a great deal of useful information on environmental issues, the nation’s laws and EPA initiatives. While the agency’s priorities are often dictated, to a greater or lesser degree, by the occupant of the White House, the EPA is considered by many to be a solid source of information on environmental issues. is a “nonpartisan, nonprofit ‘consumer advocate’ for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics.” Its staff monitors factual accuracy in American politics, looking at what’s being said in TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews and the like.

The website has three main outlets for its work: Articles, the FactCheck Wire (for shorter items or ones of less national interest) and Ask FactCheck (in which the group’s staff members answer questions sent in by readers, often about chain e-mails on political subjects). The group debunks myths, falsehoods and exaggerations by politicians and outside groups involved in election campaigns and public policy debates. Examples of’s work include stories about misinformation spread during public policy debates such as the one on overhauling the health care system, and inaccurate claims made during election campaigns. The group’s work is often cited by other media organizations. is funded by, and is a project of, the Annenberg Public Policy Center, which was established by the Annenberg Foundation with a $20 million endowment in 1993. The Annenberg Foundation also made additional grants to support’s work. The APPC accepts no funding from business corporations, labor unions, political parties, lobbying organizations or individuals. In 2010, began accepting donations from individual members of the public. Its does not accept any funds from corporations, unions, partisan organizations or advocacy groups.

Political Leanings: None

Federal Bureau of Investigation

The FBI gathers and publishes U.S. crime statistics through its Uniform Crime Reporting Program, which was created in 1929 by the International Association of Chiefs of Police. Among the UCR’s annual publications are “Crime in the United States,” “Hate Crime Statistics” and “Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted.”

More than 17,000 law enforcement agencies provide data to the FBI, and the goal of the UCR program is to supply agencies with dependable information on crime nationwide. The UCR site is also a valuable tool for researchers. Visitors can find crime statistics for states, metropolitan areas, cities with populations of more than 10,000, rural and suburban counties, and colleges and universities. Within the report summary of “Crime in the United States,” visitors can see a crime clock that breaks down how often each type of crime is committed and a map that shows the crime breakdown by region of the United States. The section titled “offenses reported” includes in-depth statistics such as race, sex and age of the perpetrators, and breakdowns for property, violent and hate crimes. The “special reports” section provides researchers with more specific studies, such as arrests of juveniles for drug abuse violations or violence against infants.

The National Incident-Based Reporting System, a separate data collection system, offers a more detailed look at each crime occurrence, with data on every incident and arrest in various categories. The NIBRS data have been used to produce reports such as an examination of white-collar crime or an analysis of the structure of family violence.

Comments: The website is a helpful and reliable source of crime statistics. Visitors can read the guidelines for reporting, defining and scoring a crime. The site does note that not all of the data it receives can be published due to computer issues, changes in record management systems and personnel shortages within individual agencies.

Federal Election Commission

The Federal Election Commission is an independent government agency was created in 1974 in the wake of the Watergate scandals to regulate campaign spending and police requirements for disclosing federal campaign money. The six commissioners are evenly split — three Democrats and three Republicans. The FEC collects and publishes reports of receipts and expenditures by candidates for president, Senate and House, and from political parties and federal political action committees.

The FEC’s website offers a full compendium of the laws and regulations governing campaigns and elections. The site also features a page with quick answers to common questions about the FEC and election law. The FEC offers the ability to search the disclosure database within the sub-page campaign finance reports and data, or to search the reports of funds raised and spent that candidates must file with the FEC. Other sites, such as the Center for Responsive Politics’, historically have been easier to navigate, but is improving. Official vote results for presidential and congressional elections are also available on the website.

Comments: The FEC staff does a good job of providing Internet access to the information the agency collects. It’s worth noting that the FEC is the repository of most, but not all, reports about money raised and spent in federal campaigns: certain independent nonprofit groups report instead to the Internal Revenue Service.

Federal Judicial Center

The Federal Judicial Center is the “educational and research agency for the federal courts.” Its website contains research on federal court operations, procedures and court history as well as educational resources for judges and court employees. Congress created the center in 1967 to study the court system and propose improvements to it. The chief justice of the United States chairs its board.

Profiles of all federal judges since 1789, histories of individual courts and summaries of landmark judicial legislation can be found in the Federal Judicial History section. The extensive publications section includes detailed guides – such as manuals on complex litigation and scientific evidence – to help lawyers, judges and judicial employees. The site also links to notices of class-action lawsuits, information about other prominent litigation, and helpful resources such as the U.S. Sentencing Commission and the Supreme Court. Additionally, the center  lists and describes all educational programs attended by state and federal judges since 1900.

Comments: The Federal Judicial Center is a very useful resource for nonpartisan and comprehensive information regarding all aspects of the judiciary.

Political Leanings: Neutral

Federation for American Immigration Reform

The Federation for American Immigration Reform is a nonprofit organization promoting more restrictive immigration laws. FAIR favors improved border security, an end to illegal immigration and restrictions on legal immigration, which means that the legislation it supports is often spearheaded by Republicans and its concerns correlate with conservative causes. FAIR bills itself as a nonpartisan organization, and it will support Democratic legislation if it restricts legal and illegal immigration.

FAIR representatives have spoken to the media and testified before and lobbied Congress on the subject of changes to immigration law. On its website, FAIR offers data on the costs and prevalence of immigration, some of it based on original analysis. It also publishes policy analyses and reports about immigration issues, including the societal and economic ramifications of immigration.

The organization was founded in 1979 by John Tanton, a controversial, anti-immigration figure. FAIR’s website does not offer a list of individuals or organizations that support it financially; however, the liberal site shows that the conservative Scaife Foundation and its subsidiaries make large contributions to FAIR.

Comments: FAIR is a conservative group in favor of strict immigration controls, which is evident in its reports and publications.

Political Leanings: Conservative

Government Accountability Office

Formerly known as the General Accounting Office, the GAO changed its name in July 2004 to the Government Accountability Office. It is the investigative arm of Congress, serving both Republican and Democratic members. The GAO evaluates federal programs, audits federal expenditures, issues legal opinions and makes recommendations for improved efficiency. The head of GAO is known as the comptroller general.

In addition to offering materials sorted according to a variety of featured issues, the GAO’s website compiles congressional reports and testimony. A helpful page for newcomers to the site offers introductions to the GAO and a list of the “Top 10” GAO publications of the previous month.

Comments: GAO’s reports are thorough and authoritative, and they often provide excellent summaries of federal programs. Users should be cautious of reports responding to individual members of Congress, who sometimes tailor their questions to bring forth answers that support their side of a policy debate.

Guttmacher Institute

The Guttmacher Institute was founded in 1968 as the Center for Family Planning Program Development and was named after Alan Guttmacher, a former president of Planned Parenthood and distinguished obstetrician-gynecologist. It provides the most highly respected statistics on the sexual health of women and men. Its figures on abortion are widely cited by the media as well as by groups on both sides of the political aisle. Among the institute’s donors are Planned Parenthood, the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Population Affairs, UNAIDS, the GlaxoSmithKline Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

While the Guttmacher Institute’s statistics are highly reliable, its approach to reproductive health may rub anti-abortion activists and supporters the wrong way. According to its mission statement, the Guttmacher Institute promotes “societal respect for and protection of personal decision-making with regard to unwanted pregnancies and births, as well as public and private-sector policies that support individuals and couples in their efforts to become responsible and supportive parents, maintain stable family structures and balance parenting with other roles.”

Comments: The Guttmacher Institute’s empirical findings are widely cited with good reason and should be trusted.

Political Leanings: Liberal

Innocence Project

The Innocence Project was founded in 1992 and is dedicated to “exonerating wrongfully convicted people through DNA testing and reforming the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice.” It is a nonprofit legal clinic directly affiliated with the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University and was founded by attorneys Peter J. Neufeld and Barry C. Scheck.

The Innocence Project employs a full-time staff of attorneys as well as Cardozo law students. In most cases, the inmates are either directly represented by members of the Innocence Project staff or the staff provided critical assistance in the inmates’ efforts to have their convictions reversed.

The website provides resources to explain what the project terms “serious flaws” in the nation’s justice system. It explains how eyewitness misidentification, false confessions and inadequate legal representation contribute to the wrongful conviction of “scores of innocent people.” The Innocence Project also provides resources for those interested in discovering ways in which the system could be changed for the better, and the site features profiles of those who have been exonerated using DNA evidence.

The project is not an anti-death penalty group but focuses on overturning wrongful convictions and promoting changes in the administration of justice that make them less likely.

Comments: The Innocence Project is a reliable source of information that addresses a number of ways in which the criminal justice system is subject to tampering and human error.

Joint Committee on Taxation

This congressional committee – unlike most – does not have separate Democratic and Republican staffs. It was set up in 1926, when the federal income tax in its present form was only 13 years old. Congress sought professional analysis independent of the Treasury Department, which is run by a political appointee named by the president. The Joint Tax Committee uses a sophisticated, computerized microsimulation model of the U.S. federal income tax system, based on information from a random sample of 200,000 tax returns each year, to project the likely effects of proposed changes in tax law.

The main page of the website links directly to text of the committee’s most recent reports and transcripts of hearings. The site also features a table of contents that offers links to the committee’s publications sorted by year.

The committee provides authoritative revenue projections – estimates of how much (in dollars) the government’s income is likely to change as a result of a proposed change in tax law. It also offers good, plain-language descriptions of how a particular tax proposal would work. But the committee provides only limited “distributional analysis” – estimates of how people at various income levels will fare.

Justice at Stake

Justice at Stake is a national, nonpartisan organization that aims to “keep our courts fair and impartial.” Launched in February 2002, the group is composed of more than 45 judicial, legal and citizen organizations with the common goal of educating the public on the importance of limiting the influence of outside interest groups on the U.S. judicial system. The organization is funded by grants from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Joyce Foundation, the Moriah Fund and the Open Society Institute, and accepts individual donations.

The organization uses its website to inform the public of what it perceives to be threats to the independence of the nation’s courts and judges, including escalating spending by various interests on state judicial races. The site has information on how each state selects its judges (merit selection or election, with variations) and judicial issues in each state. Other offerings include podcasts, a current issues section, a glossary of terms used in the legal system, and biennial reports analyzing the most recent round of state judicial races.

Comments: Justice at Stake provides valuable information about the judicial selection process and attempts by outside interest groups to influence the operations of state and federal courts.

Political Leanings: None

Kaiser Family Foundation

The Kaiser Family Foundation, a research-based health care philanthropy, describes its mission as “to inform discussion and debate on major issues that affect millions of people, especially the most vulnerable and disadvantaged, and to elevate the national level of debate on health issues.” Its reports are intended as tools for lawmakers, the media and the public to promote greater understanding of health care financing, including how to use Medicaid and Medicare. It is an independent philanthropy that receives no outside funding and is not associated with Kaiser Permanente or Kaiser Industries.

The foundation regularly releases the results of public opinion polls and surveys. An affiliated website,, offers reports and webcasts on many issues related to health policy.

Comments: Widely respected, Kaiser’s studies focus on public health for the poor and those without medical insurance. Its surveys and analyses are comprehensive and well-documented.

Political Leanings: None

Leadership Conference on Civil Rights

The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights says it is “the nation’s premier civil rights coalition,” and it has “coordinated the national legislative campaign on behalf of every major civil rights law since 1957.” It was founded in 1950 by A. Philip Randolph of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, Roy Wilkins of the NAACP and Arnold Aronson of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council. Today, the LCCR has more than 180 member organizations, including People for the American Way, AARP, the American Civil Liberties Union, the AFL-CIO and constituent unions, the NAACP, National Council of La Raza, the Human Rights Campaign and the National Organization for Women.

The LCCR’s website offers reports on such issues as fair housing and the status of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. In addition to organizing various civil and voting rights campaigns, the LCCR is one of the main groups monitoring judicial nominations from the liberal point of view. The website for that campaign offers articles and op-eds, fact sheets, and profiles of current and past nominees. The LCCR also provides overviews of civil rights cases on the Supreme Court’s docket each term.

Comments: Most material on this site has a strong liberal, pro-civil rights slant, though with that in mind it can be useful.

Political Leanings: Liberal


LegiStorm was launched in 2006, originally as a searchable database of congressional staff salaries. It has since expanded to include a range of financial data about legislators and government employees. The site collects staff salaries, trips paid for by private institutions, financial disclosure forms, foreign gifts and earmarks for Congress members and key staff. It also indexes policy reports, congressional schedules, FEC press releases and political news. Much of the data are available elsewhere; for instance, the information on congressional earmarks is drawn from Taxpayers for Common Sense. Some, however, can be difficult to find.

The site is a project of Storming Media, which sells unclassified Pentagon reports. The LegiStorm resources are free but require registration.

In addition, LegiStorm offers some tools for analyzing information. For instance, staffer salary data can be organized by staffer but also by Congress member or committee, and earmarks can be organized by member or by appropriations bill. The trip and earmark sections include spreadsheets that can be reordered to rank members by costliness of trips, number of earmarks and so forth.

LegiStorm is a nonpartisan source. The information is presented without comment, and the affiliated blog is written in a journalistic style.

Comments: LegiStorm’s information is sometimes presented in a way that’s difficult to understand, and much of the data are available elsewhere. However, this is a good one-stop-shopping spot for publicly available financial information on lawmakers and their staffs, as well as other material on Congress. In particular, staff salaries can be difficult to find elsewhere online.

Political Leanings: None

Migration Policy Institute

The Migration Policy Institute is a nonpartisan think tank that studies international migration. According to its website, the institute “provides analysis, development, and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at the local, national, and international levels. It aims to meet the rising demand for pragmatic and thoughtful responses to the challenges and opportunities that large-scale migration, whether voluntary or forced, presents to communities and institutions in an increasingly integrated world.”

The institute does not lobby for or against specific legislation. Rather, it performs research and analysis to inform policymakers and advocates. Its research covers refugee protection and immigration in the United States and Europe, with a focus on social, economic and political integration. The website offers a number of research papers and press releases and a link to the “Migration Information Source” online journal, as well as an online bookstore.

The institute is funded by donations from a number of international governments, foundations and organizations. The list of donors includes Booz Allen Hamilton, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Rockefeller Foundation and the U.S. Census Bureau, among many others.

Comments: The institute is an excellent source for impartial, well-researched data on immigration. It gives a realistic portrayal of U.S. and international immigration without advocating a particular position.

Political Leanings: None

NARAL Pro-Choice America

NARAL Pro-Choice America describes itself as “the leading national advocate for personal privacy and a woman’s right to choose.”

NARAL monitors federal and state-level legislation and court cases on abortion, birth control, sex education and related topics, posting issue briefs designed to inform and marshal activists. It also rates House and Senate members on their voting records.

Comments: NARAL Pro-Choice America is a prominent advocate of abortion rights, and its Web site provides an up-to-date guide to developments on that issue from the group’s point of view.

Political Leanings: Liberal, favors right to abortion

National Academies

The nonprofit National Academies — the National Academy of Sciences, the National Research Council, the Institute of Medicine and the National Academy of Engineering — generate and disseminate expert research and judgments on matters of science, including the social sciences. They bill themselves as “advisers to the nation on science, engineering, and medicine.”

The Academies convene panels of experts to address matters of scientific policy. Only top scientists can become members, and that honor includes a duty to serve (for free) on study committees, which discuss “national or international issues involving science, technology, human health, or environmental quality.” Hundreds of these committees meet each year. Study topics are usually requested by the federal government, though state governments and private concerns can also request and fund projects. Committee reports are published by the National Academies Press and can be searched and read for free online.

The main Academies website features capsule reviews of new and notable reports. In addition to the 200 to 300 reports published each year, the Academies also produce an annual Report to Congress, synthesizing the past year’s research.

While the Academies do not receive direct federal appropriations, about 85 percent of their funding comes from the federal government. The rest comes from state agencies, private sponsors, foundations and the National Academies endowment. A breakdown of funding sources is included in the annual Report to Congress. The Academies aim to keep partisan and personal interests out of their decisions. Sponsors have no control over how studies are conducted or their outcomes, and the committees deliberate in private to minimize outside influence.

Comments: Academies reports can be dense and difficult for laypeople to read, although full-text searching makes it easier to find relevant pages. The website contains a searchable archive of press releases about the reports that are usually easier to analyze and digest. Academy recommendations are often cautious, even equivocal. Particularly strong statements or strenuous recommendations represent a
significant scientific consensus.

Political Leanings: None

National Academy of Social Insurance

The National Academy of Social Insurance is a nonprofit organization that evaluates economic security programs for people out of work due to disability, unemployment or retirement. It says its mission is “to promote understanding and informed policymaking on social insurance and related programs through research, public education, training, and the open exchange of ideas.” The NASI’s work is funded by foundation grants; contributions from corporations, labor unions and individuals; and membership dues. The board of directors is made up of former Social Security Administration officials, academics, actuaries, and government and private sector experts.

Visitors can search the NASI’s website by subject. The main page links to specific areas focusing on Medicare and Social Security.

Comments: The NASI has no political agenda. While its scholars have personal policy preferences, its papers adhere to the highest standards of objectivity.

Political Leanings: None

National Center for Education Statistics

Part of the U.S Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, the National Center for Education Statistics publishes and analyzes a wide variety of data pertaining to public school education and finances. In its mission statement, the NCES says it aims to conduct studies that compare international education statistics with U.S education results and seeks to be the “primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education.”

The NCES website contains reports on such subjects as the use of educational technology in public school districts, and it has data on the makeup of the student bodies of public schools nationwide. Its data allowing for comparisons between schools internationally and those in the United States is widely used. Two of the major international programs that show how U.S. students compare with students in other countries are the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS). Results from both studies are available on the NCES site.

Comments: The NCES regularly posts statistics, surveys and analyses of education in the United States.

National Center for State Courts

In 1971, Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger advocated the creation of a “central source for the state courts,” which led to the birth of the National Center for State Courts. The NCSC prides itself on “improving the administration through leadership and service to the state courts and serving as an information clearinghouse so that innovations in one court can benefit all courts.” The NCSC does this by conducting research, publishing reports and hosting educational programs about court operations.

The center’s day-to-day operations include collecting and interpreting the latest data on the operations of state courts as well as providing information to state court leaders on issues of national policy. The website’s resources include the work of the Court Statistics Project, which produces annual analyses of trial and appellate courts, short reports on specific issues, diagrams of each state’s judicial structure, and detailed statistics on court systems and caseloads. Visitors to the site can search a database for information by state, type of filings (civil, felony or domestic relations) and population (such as adult or juvenile cases). NCSC also publishes books on court trends and one on judicial salaries, and it maintains a Mass Tort Clearinghouse that contains reports and state resources on the subject and serves as a forum for mass tort judges.

The site also includes information on NCSC’s special projects to help courts improve in areas such as management of juries and the protection of children in foster care. Visitors can search the NCSC library catalog to find resources on judicial administration or browse the Topics A-Z section for information on specific issues, such as civil litigation, federal relations and sentencing. The NCSC is funded by contributions from individuals; law firms; and corporations and foundations, such as Ford Motor Co., General Electric, Pfizer, Sara Lee Corp., Shell Oil Co. and Wal-Mart.

Comments:The website is a great source for all things related to state courts.

National Conference of State Legislatures

A bipartisan organization for state, commonwealth and territorial legislators and their staffs, the National Conference of State Legislatures “provides research, technical assistance and opportunities for policymakers to exchange ideas on the most pressing state issues.” The organization advocates the interests of state governments.

The NCSL’s website contains information about the issues state governments are facing, such as education, environmental protection, transportation, criminal justice and state-tribal relations. Visitors to the site can access various reports, including summaries of which states enacted certain types of legislation on, for example, gambling or immigration. The site also contains information on state elections and election laws.

The “GrassCatcher” page is a daily roundup of state and policy news. Visitors can listen to NCSL’s podcasts and request a personalized daily or weekly e-mail on specified policy topics.

Comments: The website is a good resource for information on the status of state laws on various subjects.

National Governors Association

The National Governors Association was formed in 1908 and represents all 50 state governors as well as those from five U.S. territories. The NGA’s Office of Federal Relations in Washington, D.C., lobbies for policies that reflect the governors’ views, and its Center for Best Practices is a consulting firm that helps governors “develop and implement innovative solutions to public policy challenges.” The Center for Best Practices issues policy reports and writes Front & Center, a weekly newsletter on what the NGA and its governors are doing. It also funds state projects. For instance, it supported 15 states in developing programs to fight childhood obesity. Reports on these projects can be found on the Center’s part of the NGA site.

The public can access information on individual governors and issues of interest to the NGA on the website.

To be part of the NGA, states must pay dues, which help fund the organization’s activities. The Center for Best Practices is financed primarily through federal and private foundation grants and partially through the NGA’s Corporate Fellows Program, which accepts $20,000 from companies that then act as resources for the center. That program is designed to increase dialogue between the public and private sectors.

Comments: The NGA is bipartisan but writes about issues from the perspective of state governors. It vigorously promotes its members’ proposals and accomplishments.

National Immigration Law Center

The National Immigration Law Center analyzes proposed immigration legislation and litigates on behalf of immigrants’ rights. The NILC partners with community advocates in states that have high immigrant populations and works to help low-income immigrants get legal, medical and social assistance. The NILC’s website includes a number of publications and resources having to do with immigration issues, including in-depth analyses of legislation on driver’s licenses, employment, Social Security and public benefits.

While the NILC has an undisguised agenda to promote immigrants’ rights, its policy analyses are usually straightforward. The website does link to and contain biased resources, but the NILC provides solid overviews of legislation and state and federal rules regarding immigrants, as well as updates on proposed legislation.

The NILC is funded by foundation and individual donations, grants from state and federal government agencies (including the Department of Justice), publication sales, and attorney fees. A list of major donors is available.

Comments: The NILC frequently goes to court to defend immigrants’ rights, but its website is also a valuable resource for information on relevant cases and legislation.

Political Leanings: Pro-immigration and immigrant rights

National Immigration Forum

The National Immigration Forum is an immigrant rights organization that, according to its website, “advocates and builds public support for public policies that welcome immigrants and refugees and are fair to and supportive of newcomers to our country.”

The forum presses lawmakers to adopt immigrant-friendly policies. Founded in 1982, the forum has more than 250 membership organizations. It works with groups that provide services to immigrants at the national and local levels. Its Web site includes comprehensive information on legislation, such as summaries and analyses of bills, congressional votes, links to other sources of information and updates on policy. The site also posts comments on news coverage and links to public opinion polls. “The Debate” tab features links to reports and policy papers on issues such as due process, the economy and naturalization.

The Community Resource Bank is a clearinghouse of information on ways communities have helped immigrants integrate into U.S. society, and includes information on state and local government initiatives, immigration population data, “success stories” from pro-immigrant projects, links to reports on issues such as public safety and law enforcement, and a directory of pro-immigrant organizations.

Comments: The National Immigration Forum provides information from a pro-immigration stance. Its summaries and links to legislation and congressional votes, however, are straightforward. The media often quotes its experts, identifying them as advocates for immigrants’ rights, on legislative matters in this subject area.

Political Leanings: Pro-immigration and immigrant rights

National Institute on Money in Politics (Follow the Money)

The National Institute on Money in Politics is a nonpartisan organization “dedicated to accurate, comprehensive and unbiased documentation and research on campaign finance at the state level.” Founded in 1999, the institute creates and maintains publicly accessible databases (with more than 12 million records), containing information about campaign funding at the state level. It uses this information to assess the influence of money in public policy.

Visitors to the site can “follow the money” by using the “Search Our Data” option on the right-hand side of the home page. It’s possible to search for political contributions by state and year, candidate or committee, and contributor or special interests. The website’s research and reports section contains information on trends in political contributions, including the donating habits of special interest groups. The data snapshots section includes quick summaries of the institute’s findings, and an interactive U.S. map includes information on the number of races in each state.

Beyond its free offerings, the institute sells data, such as the contributions received by every candidate in a certain state in an election cycle or the contributions made by a certain entity. The organization also provides customized reports, for a fee. The institute receives funding from private foundations including the Carnegie Corporation of New York, Ford Foundation, JEHT Foundation, Joyce Foundation, Open Society Institute and the Pew Charitable Trusts. It’s also supported by data sales to researchers and newspapers, contracts for custom research, and individual contributions.

Comments: This is a good companion website to, which examines campaign spending at the federal level.

Political Leanings: None

National Rifle Association

The National Rifle Association, one of the nation’s oldest advocacy groups, was formed in 1871 to “promote and encourage rifle shooting on a scientific basis.” Since that time, the NRA has evolved into the largest gun-rights lobbying organization in the United States.

The NRA describes itself as an organization committed to the promotion of firearm education, training and marksmanship. It has consistently defended its interpretation of the Second Amendment, arguing that attempts by the government to regulate arms are unconstitutional The NRA’s political involvement dates back to 1934, when it formed a legislative affairs division, which evolved into the group’s Institute for Legislative action in 1975. The NRA-ILA is the lobbying arm of the group and “is committed to preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.” The NRA-ILA provides action alerts to its members and fact sheets on gun legislation, as well as candidate grades and endorsements that are available to NRA members on the group’s website.

Comments: The NRA offers a great deal of information on firearms and marksmanship. However, the information reflects its opposition to gun regulation and restriction in any form.

Political Leanings: Conservative, favors fewer restrictions on guns

National Taxpayers Union

The National Taxpayers Union is a lobbying organization favoring “lower taxes and smaller government.” It favors scrapping the income tax in favor of a “flat tax” or a national sales tax. Since its founding in 1969, the Taxpayers Union has been a critic of what it sees as wasteful federal spending, saying “NTU staffers know a boondoggle when they see it.”

The NTU’s home page offers links to its most recent research, including a regular report on “How Taxpayers Fared” in the most recent election from its point of view. The site also offers a useful FAQ about “congressional pay and perks.”

Some NTU material is useful for researchers, notably its calculations of the pensions paid to retiring House and Senate members and its analysis of what lawmakers spend on travel or office expenses. But questions have arisen about its motives for taking on certain issues, such as when it defended Microsoft against antitrust charges in the United States and Europe after receiving $215,000 in software from the company. The NTU’s anti-tax stance leads it to rate Republicans more favorably than Democrats. Nevertheless, the NTU often criticizes both Republican and Democratic lawmakers for what it terms wasteful travel or office spending.

Comments: The NTU keeps tabs on spending by Senate and House members, but its strongly anti-tax perspective colors much of its research.

Political Leanings: Conservative, strongly anti-tax

Natural Resources Defense Council

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a pro-environmental protection nonprofit. It works “to protect wildlife and wild places and to ensure a healthy environment for all life on earth,” according to its website.

The website offers information on a number of key environmental issues, including climate change, clean energy, reviving oceans, protecting the Great Lakes from Asian carp, reintroduction of wolves in the western United States and so on. The group also does independent research on environmental policy questions and makes policy recommendations. The affiliated NRDC Action Fund lobbies Congress on issues pertaining to the environment.

The group has a site for younger viewers as well: The Green Squad, which contains tips for kids on making their schools greener.

In 2008, 85 percent of the NRDC’s funding came from membership dues and individual contributions, while just 12 percent came from foundations. For that year, it claimed 1.3 million “members and online activists.”

Comments: The NRDC makes no secret of its pro-environmental protection stance. Reports and fact sheets often contain solid research, but, like materials from other advocacy groups, generally don’t include other perspectives.

Political Leanings: Liberal


NumbersUSA describes itself as a “non-partisan, public policy organization that favors an environmentally sustainable and economically just America” or, more succinctly, an “immigration-reduction organization.” It was founded in 1997 by Roy Beck, a former journalist who wrote primarily on environmental issues such as urban sprawl.

The organization’s goals include studying the numerical levels of legal and illegal immigration and informing the public about the recommendations of two national commissions from the 1990s to reduce immigration, recommendations that include eliminating chain migration (whereby an immigrant who has gained citizenship sends for adult relatives to join him) and eliminating the visa lottery. It also generally opposes any legislation that would increase or maintain current immigration levels in the United States.

NumbersUSA has ties to John Tanton, an outspoken conservationist who has helped found other anti-immigration groups. Tanton, a controversial figure, is publisher of the Social Contract Press, which has put out some of NumbersUSA’s materials and reprinted the French novel “The Camp of the Saints,” criticized by some as racist. Beck once worked for Tanton’s magazine The Social Contract. Beck writes on the NumbersUSA Web site that “nothing about this website should be construed as advocating hostile actions or feelings toward immigrant Americans.”

The organization’s studies and books as well as its research and reports are available for download. Visitors can find information organized by “interests” or topics, such as American workers, the environment and illegal immigration. Those pages contain reports, congressional testimony and media reports that support NumbersUSA’s views. The group also keeps track of the immigration voting records of members of Congress.

Comments: NumbersUSA states that its views on immigration result from environmental and economic justice considerations, but its “immigration-reduction” stance is generally shared by conservatives.

Political Leanings: Conservative, favors strict immigration controls

People for the American Way

People for the American Way says it favors “pluralism, individuality, freedom of thought, expression and religion, a sense of community, and tolerance and compassion for others.” PFAW was founded in 1981 by Norman Lear, Barbara Jordan, the Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, and Andrew Heiskell, in part as a response to the political efforts of religious figures Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson.

People for the American Way engages in numerous projects, many of which focus on civil liberties, the separation of church and state, voting rights, and judicial nominations.

Its website offers a number of tools, most of which are more useful to activists than researchers. These include a state-by-state guide to news and organizations of potential interest to liberal activists, profiles of prominent conservative activist organizations, and an archive of reports produced by the organization.

Comments: Because PFAW is a prominent liberal advocacy organization, its reports tilt in a predictable direction, and some of their documents blur the line between a press release and a research report. While its website offers like-minded activists some innovative tools, independent researchers would be well-advised not to rely exclusively on the site’s content.

Political Leanings: Liberal

Pew Research Center

The Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan organization that’s a subsidiary of the Pew Charitable Trusts, calls itself a “fact tank.” It conducts public opinion polling and social science research, and publishes reports and information on various issues through seven distinct projects:

Pew Research Center: U.S. Politics & Policy examines public attitudes toward the news media, surveys the demographic makeup of the American electorate, analyzes public and opinion leaders’ views on international policy, and measures public use of media sources. As with all of the Pew Research Center projects, its surveys are published on the Web site, along with commentary and datasets.

Pew Research Center: Journalism & Media conducts empirical studies of press coverage, mainly through content analysis. Its annual report on journalism, State of the News Media, is a comprehensive look at American journalism, including trends in the industry, content analyses and the economics of the business.

Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech researches the impact of the Internet on people, society and various facets of life, such as the work, health care and politics.

Pew Research Center: Religion & Public Life functions as a forum for discussion of religion and public affairs. It publishes polls and reports on subjects such as religious affiliations, bioethics, religion and politics, the death penalty, and religion and social welfare.

Pew Research Center: Hispanic Trends focuses on eight key subject areas: demography, economics, education, identity, immigration, labor, politics and remittances. It conducts or commissions studies and public opinion surveys on Latino issues and perspectives. Its estimates on the number of illegal immigrants in the U.S. have been widely cited.

Pew Research Center: Global Attitudes & Trends conducts public opinion polls worldwide on various subjects, including top issues in the news and people’s personal views of their lives. Its surveys have been conducted in 54 countries.

Pew Research Center: Social & Demographic Trends examines behaviors and attitudes in various areas of American life, such as family, health, work and leisure. Its reports pair public opinion polling with demographic data analysis.

Comments: The center is a good resource for public opinion surveys and detailed studies in its seven project areas.

Political Leanings: None

Planned Parenthood

Planned Parenthood describes itself as “a visible and passionate advocate for policies that enable Americans to access comprehensive reproductive and sexual health care, education, and information.”

Planned Parenthood is known for its hundreds of clinics throughout the country that provide reproductive health services, including testing, birth control and, in some cases, abortions. The Planned Parenthood Federation of America website provides overviews of topics related to sexual health such as birth control methods and sexually transmitted diseases. The information is solid and down-the-middle except on the topic of abortion, where the organization’s pro-abortion rights perspective is clear. The Planned Parenthood Action Center, which has a separate Web site, describes what the organization is doing on issues such as health care overhaul and abortion rights and encourages volunteers to get involved.

Comments: Planned Parenthood’s website gives straightforward and authoritative information on birth control, abortion, pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, while also advocating in favor of freedom to obtain an abortion.

Political Leanings: Liberal, favors right to abortion

This independent, nonprofit website lays out the arguments on both sides of a host of controversial issues. Its mission statement: “We promote critical thinking, education, and informed citizenship.” presents issues such as “Sports and Drugs” or “Death Penalty” by giving a brief overview of the controversy, then framing the key question — “Should performance-enhancing drugs (such as steroids) be accepted in sports?” — and breaking it down into 10 underlying debates — “Athletes as Role Models” and “Sportsmanship,” for instance. Quotes from various sources on each side of the issue help readers understand the main points of contention and what the arguments are in support of each perspective.

The nonpartisan site was founded in 2004 by businessman Steve Markoff and his wife, Jadwiga.

Comments: is unusual in that it provides the arguments on both sides of an issue, along with sources for those who want to follow up further.

Political Leanings: None

Project Vote Smart

Project Vote Smart is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that gathers and organizes information on candidates for political office. Vote Smart seeks to discover where candidates stand on any number of issues by scouring public voting records, public statements and biographical information, by monitoring ratings of candidates given by more than 100 competing special-interest groups, and by sending its own detailed questionnaires to candidates through its National Political Awareness Test.

By simply entering their ZIP code, visitors to the site can pull up information on their elected officials and candidates. The site also allows individuals to search specifically for any politician’s voting record, campaign finances, and biographical and contact information.

Additionally, the site compiles rankings of officials done by various interest groups such as the National Rifle Association, the NAACP and the AFL-CIO. There is also a database of officials’ speeches and statements searchable by keyword.

Comments: The website is well organized and easy to use. Unfortunately, many candidates decline to fill out Vote Smart’s questionnaires.

Political Leanings: None

Public Citizen

Public Citizen is a consumer advocacy group that was founded in 1971 by Ralph Nader, a liberal activist and later a Green Party presidential candidate. The group says it works for “openness and democratic accountability in government, for the right of consumers to seek redress in the courts; for clean, safe and sustainable energy sources; for social and economic justice in trade policies; for strong health, safety and environmental protections; and for safe, effective and affordable prescription drugs and health care.”

The organization has six divisions: Auto Safety, Congress Watch, Energy Program, Global Trade Watch, Health Research Group and Litigation Group. It has been instrumental in a number of high-profile consumer advocacy causes. Public Citizen activists helped in the push to get airbags required in all vehicles, for instance, and the group fought to get Reye’s Syndrome warnings on aspirin bottles. Toy safety has been another area of focus for the group. Its site offers detailed information about pharmaceuticals the group considers unsafe, but full access to this information requires a paid subscription.

The Public Citizen website can be an invaluable source of information on consumer safety issues, and in some areas the group does its own research. Its Center for Auto Safety, for example, developed its own roof crush test for cars.

Public Citizen is pro-consumer and often critical of corporations and government. Don’t expect to see the views of the private sector represented here. The group does not accept donations from corporations, professional associations or government agencies, though it has received contributions from labor unions. In 2008, more than half of its funding came from individual donations, with about one-sixth coming from grants. Public Citizen’s Form 990 tax records are available on its website.

Comments: Public Citizen’s research is often thorough and detailed, though the group has an anti-corporate, pro-regulatory point of view.

Political Leanings: Liberal

RAND Corporation

The RAND Corp. conducts research on issues that relate to a broad range of public policy matters. The nonprofit corporation has been operating since 1948, when it was primarily concerned with security and defense technology; it has since broadened its areas of research to include health, education, environmental and social policy. RAND is funded primarily by federal, state and local governments, but also undertakes projects on behalf of foundations, universities, charitable organizations and private companies. The bulk of its funding comes from contracts with the U.S. government and military.

RAND has full research reports available for download on its website, along with research briefs and technical papers. The corporation is respected for its research integrity, and its publications are considered serious and authoritative across party and issue lines.

Comments: In addition to research papers and briefs, RAND’s website includes an archive of commentary pieces by RAND researchers. It is important to draw a distinction between the organization’s research, which is nonpartisan, and these pieces, which represent the opinions of individuals.

Political Leanings: None was set up in 2003 to better equip citizens to find, view and comment upon the vast array of federal regulations.

After Congress passes laws, federal agencies are responsible for enforcing them. They use regulations to accomplish that task, spelling out in detail how specific statutes are to be implemented. Each new proposed regulation must go through a notice-and-comment process, meaning that an agency must publicly announce a proposed regulation and then allow citizens the chance to weigh in. Keeping track of these draft rules once was a daunting project, as there are thousands of federal regulatory agencies. simplifies the process by collecting proposed regulations from each federal agency and offering a forum for submitting comments on them.

The site also catalogs federal regulations, so that anyone wanting to check the wording of rules that were issued to implement, say, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act can find them here.

The site can be searched by keywords, phrases or rule numbers. A short glossary of regulatory terms is provided, as is an extensive user guide. The site also includes an RSS feed that provides up-to-the-minute notice of new federal regulations.

Comments: The basic keyword search is straightforward, but the most powerful search functions require considerable knowledge of the regulatory process. If you know what you are looking for, offers one-stop shopping. It is less useful for casual browsing and novices.

Resources for the Future

Resources for the Future is a nonprofit environmental research organization that does not take positions or engage in advocacy. It is a good neutral source of information on environmental topics.

Founded in 1952, RFF’s board of directors is a mix of industry leaders, academics, environmental advocates, consultants and legal experts. RFF is widely respected by environmental and industry groups alike for its pragmatic approach to environmental regulation. Its scholars produce comprehensive research on the costs and benefits of policy initiatives – including the effects on both industry and the environment. Congress often relies on RFF’s staff expertise for objective analysis of policy proposals.

RFF says most of its funding comes from donations or grants, with about 25 percent in government grants, 25 percent from corporations, and 15 percent from individuals and philanthropies such as the Ford, Mellon and Rockefeller Foundations and the Pew Charitable Trusts. Additional revenue comes from long-term investments and publication sales.

Visitors can find RFF’s research sorted by knowledge area or research topic.

Comments: RFF is nonpartisan. Its papers and reports are technical and dense and make for difficult reading.

Political Leanings: None

Social Science Research Council

The Social Science Research Council is a New York-based “independent not-for-profit research association” that brings the work of academic social scientists to contemporary social problems.

The staff and affiliated scholars of the Social Science Research Council are largely professional academic social scientists. About three-quarters of the board of directors are professors at respected universities. The council says it is funded “from a range of private foundations and public institutions.” Documents available on its website show that its largest contributors include the Mellon, Ford and Rockefeller Foundations and the U.S. State Department.

The council currently organizes its work into four main areas: Global Security and Cooperation, Knowledge Institutions, Migration and The Public Sphere. Its website contains online articles written by staff members and a quarterly journal featuring work by independent scholars working on SSRC-related projects.

Comments: The Social Science Research Council is a clearinghouse for academic work in the social sciences. Its reports are, for the most part, free from partisan slant. They are fine sources of information, though they may be more technical and jargon-filled than reports from “think tanks” like the Brookings Institution.

Political Leanings: Neutral


U.S. PIRG is the umbrella group and national advocate for 25 state Public Interest Research Groups. The citizen-funded state PIRGs work on a wide range of consumer rights issues in 47 states and Washington, D.C. On its website, U.S. PIRG says it “stand[s] up to powerful special interests on issues to promote clean air and water, protect open space, stop identity theft, fight political corruption, provide safe and affordable prescription drugs, and strengthen voting rights.”

In addition to the state PIRG offices, there are student PIRGs that work on public interest issues at about 100 colleges and universities. Some of the first student PIRGs, established in the 1970s, were inspired by progressive activists Ralph Nader, Donald Ross and others. U.S. PIRG was founded by the state PIRG offices in 1983. In 2008 it received roughly the same amount from individual contributions as it did from grants from foundations, including the Rockefeller Foundation, the Wallace Global Fund, and the Media Democracy Fund. The group’s annual reports are available on its website.

The organization publishes investigative reports, drafts model legislation, and uses litigation and grassroots advocacy efforts to influence public policy. It publishes lengthy reports on topics ranging from pollution and global warming to risks of genetically engineered foods to campaign finance reform. U.S. PIRG releases an annual toy safety report, which it says has led to more than 100 product recalls, and issues an annual “Congressional Scorecard,” which lists votes on certain legislation in the Congress and awards a public interest “score” to each member.

U.S. PIRG also boasts of successes in blocking or pushing federal and state action on environmental issues. In its work, it often partners with other consumer and environmental organizations, such as the Consumer Federation of America and the Sierra Club.

U.S. PIRG’s reports are detailed and often contain discussions of the science involved in an issue. They reflect the group’s anti-corporate leanings, so aren’t likely to include the perspective of the business community.

Political Leanings: Liberal

United Nations

The United Nations website contains a huge amount of information that dates back to the global governing body’s inception in 1945. From the U.N. home page there are links to several of its divisions and programs.

For research purposes, a long listing of links to U.N.-supported sites, from UNICEF to the U.N. Volunteer Program, can be found at the site index page. Also, visitors can search the U.N.’s statistical database, which contains statistics on member countries and economic issues, and the U.N. documents database, which holds U.N. documents such as official letters, releases and resolutions dating back to 1993. (The site says it will add documents dating back to the 1940s.) The site also has a U.N. “cyber school” page, which aims to teach children about U.N. countries and developments.

Comments: While it’s not particularly user-friendly at first, the U.N. site has plenty of valuable content, from its statistics databases to the many U.N. program sites.

Senate Office of Public Records

On the website of this Senate office, visitors can search the disclosure reports that individuals who are hired to lobby government officials must file. The website came into being as a result of the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995, which aimed to make the business at least somewhat more transparent.

A primer on how to use the website outlines some of the several ways to search the filings. Users can search by a lobbyist’s name, the client name of the company or group that hired the lobbyist, the size of the payment made to the lobbyist, the government office or offices contacted by the lobbyist, and other criteria.

Comments: A useful tool for finding out who is trying to influence lawmakers, and on what issues.

Political Leanings: Neutral

Urban Institute

The Urban Institute says it is a “nonprofit, nonpartisan policy research and educational organization” focusing on “the social, economic, and governance problems facing the nation.” It has its roots in the Great Society era of government anti-poverty programs. The institute was chartered by a blue-ribbon commission assembled by President Lyndon Johnson to examine problems and issues faced by the nation’s urban populations.

The Urban Institute’s website offers detailed information, organized both by topic and by policy center, which are research arms within the Institute that focus on specific areas. The Issues in Focus section offers summaries of the group’s research, along with links to more in-depth reports relating to specific areas of policy disputes, such as Social Security reform, immigration and education. The institute also maintains a Policy Decoder section, which is a helpful glossary of the more technical terms used in debates about public policy and social programs.

Comments: Though liberal in its leanings, the institute’s scholarship is widely respected. calls itself “the official U.S. gateway to all government information.” The U.S. General Services Administration’s Office of Citizen Services and Communications oversees the website, which offers a library of links to government agencies, information about particular laws and regulations, and data and statistics. Visitors can get pertinent links classified by topic and access links to state and local governments as well.

Comments: can be a good place to begin for researchers who are unsure of where to look first.