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K Street Files: Soooo Good

Like Play-Doh and Etch-a-Sketch, some databases are so good that you want to play with them even if you don’t know what you can make.

Such is the case with the new mapping software rolled out this week by the Foundation Center, which allows the user to track foundation grants by Congressional district.

At the click of a button, users can see which nonprofits in any given Congressional district received grants from foundations, who gave the money and what it was meant for.

The Congressional district sort is a new function of the venerable foundation directory, a kind of matchmaking service between donors and donees.

The database also has an issue search function, allowing the user to pinpoint, for example, the 35 foundation grants given since 2003 to organizations in Arizona’s 5th district for work on aging issues.

Bradford Smith, president of the Foundation Center — which has produced the foundation directory and lots of other data about philanthropy for the past 50 years — said the group devised the mapping tool in part to respond to several Congressional offices that said they were unsure how to find nongovernmental support for constituents who came to the Member seeking help for a worthwhile charitable effort.

Steve Gunderson, president of the Council on Foundations — the trade association representing the folks in the

database — said the new data set will allow him to “share with Members the work philanthropy is doing within their own districts.”

The Foundation Center charges a fee for online access to the database, ranging from $200 to $1,300 a year, but it also maintains a K Street office where anyone can walk in and browse the database for free.

Seems like there must be something of interest in there for an enterprising young reporter.

Third Rail. After his “third way” proposal for card check legislation went over like a lead balloon with business and labor groups alike this week, Democratic operative Lanny Davis says his next step is to bring executives to town to help find a legislative sponsor for the plan.

Along with executives from Whole Foods Market Inc., Starbucks Coffee Co. and Costco Wholesale Corp., Davis on Sunday rolled out the Committee for a Level Playing Field for Union Elections, which is pushing an alternative to the Employee Free Choice Act.

Davis suggested Sunday that he had initially received positive responses from lawmakers’ offices when recently pitching the proposal, but he admitted he was surprised by some Members’ responses after the fact — particularly that of Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who said in a statement that “this proposal is unacceptable.”

Although lawmakers might be scarce, Davis said companies are reaching out to join his “little committee,” which he says is taking a unique bare-bones approach in its outreach.

“We’ve decided to follow for now a new and strange model of lobbying in Washington: We’re not using numbers, and we’re not using dollars, and we’re not using grass-roots boilerplate e-mails,” he said. “We’re using an idea.”

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