The Center for Public Integrity in the US has created a new, free online database that details the names of lobbying companies, which issues they campaign for, and most interestingly, how many dollars they spend to get their opinion through. They call it LobbyWatch and hope journalists will use it to uncover the day to day workings of American politics.
This is amazing information to have at your fingertips. In the state of New York, where I live, the the three companies who have spent the most on lobbying are Altria, Verizon and Pfizer (Verizon spent $105,426,174 since 1998). Click on the company names to see a list of the lobbying firms they employ and who else they work for. There is a shocking number of people employed who used to work for Congress or the Federal government. You can play with it yourself or read the summary here. Nationally, the amount of spending has doubled in the past six years.
There is nothing illegal about lobbying in America. But when it happens in the dark, it's very hard to hold elected officials accountable. Here's some hard evidence to the saying 'money talks'. Too bad if you don't have any.