Introducing Vote Analysis

Today we’re launching the first iteration of Vigilant’s Vote Analysis, a new tool to help with the search and analysis of roll call votes in Congress and at the state-level in each of the 50 state legislatures across the country.

Vote Analysis quickly identifies roll call votes that stand out as abnormal and may warrant further investigation. A lot of existing tools can look up a single vote on a single bill, but Vote Analysis searches across a legislator’s voting history to find instances when a vote stood out.

It might be a vote when a legislator broke from their party…

…or it might be a deciding vote on a close bill.

Or it could be a vote that was skipped completely.

Vote Analysis can also identify when a state or federal official voted with or against another legislator and pick out when a lawmaker was the only person to vote a certain way.

Often times, abnormal or odd votes can tie in with other information available on Vigilant. A yes vote might coincide with a campaign donation or activity reported by a lobbyist. Or an odd vote a few years ago may have new significance in light of recent adverse events. The context surrounding these votes can have huge implications and Vote Analysis makes it easy to quickly find the roll calls that might matter most.

Vote Analysis is now available as part of Vigilant’s Search platform. You can get in touch with [email protected] to request a demo or to learn more.

Verify at Source

It’s frustrating to run across a potentially key piece of information in a research or diligence project, but lack the details needed to track it down. This often happens with public data providers like LexisNexis, TLO or Clear.  You could come across a result in a public records search showing an “Unspecified Offense” with the “Texas Judicial System” and… nothing else! The record in question might be a traffic ticket in Houston or a DUI charge in a small town in the middle of nowhere. Figuring out exactly where the record is and what it means can take a long time to piece together – if you are able to track it down at all.

Because Vigilant’s platform works a bit differently than other data products, we’ve built a better way for researchers and analysts to retrace the steps of a search to conduct further research or to verify a result.

Vigilant searches are powerful real-time queries across thousands of data sources. If a researcher wants to dig deeper on a record that is returned, there are always direct links to  sources via a ‘Verify at Source’ button that provides a direct link to the original website or database the record came from. For example, if Vigilant shows a court record in San Mateo County in California, clicking ‘Verify at Source’ will take you right to the San Mateo County Court System’s website. This eliminates the time and guesswork of tracking down the original source of information.

With many sources, Vigilant goes even further. Whenever possible, the platform provides a direct link to the primary document itself. For example, if you want more information on a result for “John Smith” in Pennsylvania Courts, you can click the hyperlinked docket number which will open up the original court filing:

Another great example of direct links is FEC campaign finance records. On Vigilant, the hyperlinked document numbers for FEC records will actually open up the exact page of the actual campaign filing:

Quick and easy access to primary source documents on Vigilant can be invaluable – for verification purposes, tracking down additional context, or conducting follow up searches on the primary source’s database. That direct access helps researchers and analysts eliminate time-consuming steps in their workflow and improve the overall quality of the research produced.

If you would like to learn more about Vigilant’s Search platform, please reach out to [email protected] to request a demo or trial.  

Testing the “Public” Nature of Public Records

Vigilant brings together thousands of public data sources in one place, saving users significant resources by replacing time-consuming manual processes with just one simple search.  Rather than spending hours (or even days) running separate searches across hundreds of databases and websites, researchers and analysts using Vigilant can get the results they need in just seconds and instead focus their time and energy on analyzing the results.

Sometimes the manual research process Vigilant replaces is even more complicated than a lengthy list of online searches. In building out our data breach notification coverage, for instance, we saw how what is technically “public” record can be extremely difficult to actually access, and nearly impossible to do so in a way that fits the fast-paced nature of today’s world.

(For background: notifications of data breaches are a requirement in many states, compelling companies to disclose any incident in which consumers’ personal information was potentially exposed or otherwise released in an unauthorized manner. The information available on Vigilant is the notification that a breach occurred, not the actual data that may have been compromised.)

Some states make data breach notification records available online. These records aren’t always in an easy-to-search format, but several states do make some sort of list available. With Vigilant, we’ve pulled these lists together in one place so you can easily run a search across all of them, or integrate that data via our API.

 


After these first few states though, getting data breach records gets progressively more difficult…

Connecticut, for example, makes clear on their website that they have the data breach information available, but don’t make it available online. Instead, one must submit a formal request which usually takes a few days to turn around. This is doable but a slight inconvenience and possibly a major hurdle for a project with a tight turnaround.

South Carolina has a similar approach, but only after one navigates around the broken web page for “Data Breaches” on their website. When our team first followed up asking for more info, the first reply from the state was a link… directing us back to the broken web page. It took several more exchanges to establish that the data breach info was indeed available, but again, only after a formal request was submitted in writing.

Meanwhile, Nebraska’s website was working fine but they could only provide the data breach records on a CD sent via US Post. So our team submitted a request and waited for the CD to arrive, only to find it was encoded with some fairly uncommon file types. We were able to extract the records, but it was far from a straightforward process.

Even with CDs in the mix, the award for the most challenging state (among the states that do release data at all) easily goes to New York, where a request for data breach notifications in the last year took about a month to process and was fulfilled with a more than 20,000 page pdf document of scanned pages in a seemingly random order. Searching through this trove of pdfs for a specific company or data point is nearly impossible to do in short order and even though all the information is “public record”, the public’s actual ability to review this format of the information… questionable.

It’s valuable information, however. The data we received from South Carolina, for example, has notifications of data breaches from nearly 400 companies, with a combined impact on more than 11 million consumers. Expect more states to become available on Vigilant soon.

If you are interested in learning more about data breach records or would like to learn about the other types of public records available on Vigilant including lobbying records, campaign finance records, courts, business registrations and more, you can shoot us a note at [email protected] or request a demo of the platform here.

Going All In With Ante

This morning we’re excited to announce that the campaign finance dataset we’ve built at Vigilant is now powering a brand new political contribution research product, Ante. Ante leverages the power of Vigilant’s data, and provides new overlays and tools to allow campaigns, journalists and anyone else interested in political contributions to dig deeper into them.

Ante will give its users fast and easy access to over 300 million campaign contribution records. The records are pulled from across hundreds of databases at the federal, state, and local level, and are updated daily. With Vigilant’s data, Ante users can trust that they are getting the most comprehensive and up-to-date information available – and in a fraction of the time it would take with a manual process.

If you’d like to learn more about Ante, visit www.getante.com.

Vetting with Vigilant: Checking Lobbyist Registrations in 10 Seconds Flat

Vigilant helps save researchers and analysts significant time on projects like reputational risk and vetting research. Vigilant’s Search platform can help researchers quickly complete their vetting ‘checklists’ while significantly expanding the scope of their due diligence they can deliver – without requiring additional work.

Consider how Vigilant can make a big difference with one common item on a standard vetting checklist: lobbying registrations and disclosures. These public records represent an area of serious concern as they can point to conflicts of interest and undue influence, or in the absence of actual corruption, still create a problematic perception that something nefarious is afoot. The concerns around interactions with lobbyists is in part why President Obama rolled out new rules to reduce lobbyist influence during his time in the White House and why recent news reports have taken special interest in how former lobbyists have flooded the ranks of the Trump administration. In the past few years, connections to lobbyists and lobbying activity have underpinned a long list of scandals involving public officials.

Like many other public data sources, records related to lobbying exist scattered across hundreds of kludge-y federal, state, and local databases. This data can be difficult to access as it often comes in the form of handwritten pdfs, and it might be filed in an inconsistent manner. Data points like money spent, gifts given, clients represented, and other critical pieces of the lobbying puzzle can be reported in different places and be easily missed. Attempting to manually check all this information with every state is a tedious and time-consuming process, and a truly comprehensive research process isn’t sustainable in a high pressure and fast-moving environment.

When a lobbying search might be narrowed to just databases on a federal level, checking one person’s name might only take a few minutes, but when trying to clear a list of hundreds of names – whether for new political appointees or for a photoline at a fundraiser – the process of clicking through the process on even just a few government-run databases will quickly add up to become hours or even days in the long-run.

With Vigilant, we’ve made lobbyist checks as easy and as fast as possible. We’ve brought together the data for federal lobbying registrations including the US House, US Senate, and DOJ FARA in one simple search, along with the state-level lobbyist databases from all 50 states and DC, and major cities and counties across the country.

With Vigilant, searching all these lobbying databases takes only a few seconds, and with all of the searches being run in real-time, the results represent the most recent available information. If lobbying represents a particular concern for you, Vigilant Alerts can even be set to monitor and provide notifications whenever new filings post. With Vigilant, completing the lobbying portion of a vetting checklist is reduced to a fraction of the time and this adds up to major time saved.

Alongside lobbying records, Vigilant provides quick access to hundreds of other sources that can complete and expand a vetting checklist – including business registrations and licenses, campaign finance data, court records, data breaches and more. You can learn more about our Search platform here.

Vigilant Alerts: The Case of the Congressman

Alerts are a powerful tool on Vigilant that provide ongoing monitoring of a person or entity to ensure that you don’t miss new public records becoming available at a time when they may matter most.

To illustrate the potential power of Alerts, consider this recent example:

A few months after the 2018 midterm elections, news broke that a newly-elected member of congress had recently been party to a divorce case which included allegations of adultery. The court filing had become publicly available back in August, but the story wasn’t published until January 15th.

BOISE – New Idaho congressman Russ Fulcher and his wife, Kara, divorced in September after she cited his “acts of adultery.”

At the time, Fulcher was running for Idaho’s 1st District congressional seat, after winning a hard-fought, seven-way GOP primary in May with 43.1 percent of the vote. But the divorce, filed in Ada County, escaped public attention during the campaign.

The candidate in question wasn’t running in the most competitive race in the country, but Vigilant’s Alerts could have provided an immediate flag on the court records in question.

On August 8th, 2018, the first filing in the divorce record became available on the Idaho State Judicial Website after being filed in Ada County:

That same day, a Vigilant Alert set up for Russell Fulcher and checking Idaho Courts would have found the record:

And, with Alert emails set up, immediately after Vigilant found the record, an Alert would have been sent directly to a subscriber’s inbox:

Another similar example involved then-congressman and then-nominee for Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. In October 2016, a church in DC filed a complaint against Zinke and his wife in DC Superior Court alleging unpaid rent on a property the church owned. The church accused Zinke and his wife of “wrongfully abandoning” the property and of owing more than $66,000 in rent and other fees. Although the Zinkes argued the property had been “unlivable” and filed a countersuit against the church, the two parties reached an undisclosed settlement almost a year later in August 2017.

Again, Vigilant Alerts could have provided much earlier detection of this case.

On October 21st, 2016, the original Complaint for Breach of Contract was filed with the DC Superior Court and became available on the public docket:

The same day, a Vigilant Alert set to check DC Courts for Ryan Zinke would have found the record:

And immediately after, Vigilant would have sent an Alert with the record directly to a subscriber’s inbox.

For interested parties, these records – which took months to discover without Vigilant  – could have been delivered right to an email inbox within 24 hours of becoming public record. Maybe the records from these specific examples wouldn’t have changed the outcome of a particular election, but having these types of insights earlier can potentially make a big difference.  

Alerts can be set to cover thousands of data sources available on Vigilant, and can be customized with user settings. You can learn more about Vigilant’s alerts here.

275 Million Campaign Finance Records… and counting

Our team has been hard at work the last several months building out the campaign finance coverage available on Vigilant. Starting at the federal level with the FEC and working our way down through states, counties, and cities, we’ve now brought together over 275 million individual records to create the largest pool of campaign finance data ever made accessible in one place.

It hasn’t been easy. The information comes from several hundred unique sources of data, spanning a patchwork of different jurisdictions, data formats, reporting mechanisms, requirements, and reporting timelines. In many places, our team had to overcome big challenges like finding ways to extract information from messy handwritten forms, and unearthing records buried deep in outdated government websites. Sorting through – and clearly organizing – misfiled records, duplicated records, and records amended three or four times were all important parts of our process as we expanded our coverage.

Now, instead of a manual process that would take hours, Vigilant can complete a search on this collection of hundreds of millions of records in seconds, providing the most comprehensive campaign finance results available. And because all of Vigilant’s searches are either live queries or pull from databases we update several times a day, you can trust that the search is always as up-to-date as possible, even as the number of political donations being made every day continues to grow.

In the months ahead, we are going to continue building out our Campaign Finance coverage even more, bringing more counties, cities and other jurisdictions into our platform. The 2016 and 2018 election seasons both broke records for political giving and 2020 will likely do so again. We’ll be right there alongside all the new records, helping our customers access and make sense of the information needed to make better informed decisions.

Vigilant V2

Today, we’re excited to launch Vigilant V2 – the second generation of the Vigilant platform.

Vigilant integrates live search and monitoring of hundreds and hundreds of public records databases – giving our users access to the information they need for research, diligence and intelligence in seconds.

With V2 we’ve made major upgrades and reimagined much of the underlying infrastructure – hugely improving the speed of search (now 5 – 10x faster) and the robustness of the platform, and making significant interface improvements to help make Vigilant easier and more powerful to use.

We’ve been working on this for awhile, and we’re really excited to have it kick into action today.

We’d love to have you check it out – you can sign up for a free trial and demo here if you’re interested.

Sources to Search: Data Breach Notices Databases

A series of new reports on hacking of credit card data at Trump hotels highlights a newly public records data source that can be increasingly high-value: data breach notices.

As companies have increasingly been targeted by hackers – and have become increasingly aware of the risks around exposing public data – states have imposed new laws requiring that companies disclose these data breaches to their affected (or potentially affected) customers. This typically takes the form of a fairly standardized data breach letter, disclosing some details of the breach and who is affected.

These can be a really interesting source of news and intelligence around the companies that file them and regarding the incidents themselves, but normally they’re only posted on the companies websites (often obscurely) or only sent to the recipients.

However, the state of California (along with a handful of other states) actually retains a database of major breaches. State law “requires a business or state agency to notify any California resident whose unencrypted personal information, as defined, was acquired, or reasonably believed to have been acquired, by an unauthorized person.” And in turn, that any notice sent to more than 500 California residents be sent to the California State Attorney General. Those notices are posted on an online database of major data breaches here.

These notices variously provide some details of what happened in the breach and – on occasion – how many folks are affected and what data was affected. For example, in the case of the filing for Trump Hotels the notice details how the breach happened (though not the overall number of people affected):

 

The Sabre SynXis Central Reservations system (CRS) facilitates the booking of hotel reservations made by consumers through hotels, online travel agencies, and similar booking services. Following an investigation, Sabre notified us on June 5, 2017 that an unauthorized party gained access to account credentials that permitted access to payment card data and certain reservation information for some of our hotel reservations processed through Sabre’s CRS. The investigation found that the unauthorized party first obtained access to Trump Hotels-related payment card and other reservation information on August 10, 2016. The last access to this information was on March 9, 2017.

While other states maintain similar data resources, California’s is the most comprehensive and appears to be the most frequently updated. Washington state also posts notices as they’re received, as does the state of Oregon the state of Vermont, the state of Wisconsin, the state of Maine, and Montana.

The state of Massachusetts also posts some information on data breach notices, but they appear to update their records quarterly. The same appears to be true in Maryland. New Hampshire has a small number of records available as well.

The State of Indiana appears to release their reports on an annual basis.

At the federal level, HHS reports this information for breaches of unsecured protected health information affecting 500 individuals or more.

The Identity Theft Resource Center also aggregates a lot of this information on their website on a weekly basis.

While sometimes these filings become the center of news stories, they often don’t at the time, and can be a useful point to look back to for context.

 

The Watch periodically highlights data sources that can be valuable, but are often overlooked. Databases like California’s Data Breach Notices are integrated into the Vigilant research platform and be accessed and monitored for new records through the platform. Contact us if you’re interested in a trial.