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With Election Day just around corner (November 4; don't forget to vote!), transparent government advocates are working hard to shed light on campaign finances and influences.
In modern politics, you simply can't take a campaign at face value: those heartwarming or powerful candidate commercials might be financed by some shady sources. By using technology such as infographics and visualization tools, open government groups are making campaign finance data more accessible.
Why does campaign finance data matter? For some campaigns, a large chunk of donations might come from sources that are located outside of the candidate's district.
Special interest groups with fat pockets can influence campaigns in ways that individual citizens cannot. Keeping campaign finance data accessible and transparent is an important part of keeping politicians accountable and holding up democracy.
The Sunlight Foundation, a nonpartisan nonprofit, has a Real-Time Federal Campaign Finance page. You can see which super PACs, companies, or individuals are bankrolling candidates in your district.
The Center for Responsive Politics, another nonprofit, released a tool that lets you toggle between in-district versus out-of-district campaign funds. On a local scale, our neighbors at OpenOakland are exposing the campaign finances of Oakland mayoral candidates.
OpenOakland's project, called Open Disclosure, uses publicly available campaign finance data. The finance data was self-reported by all Oakland mayoral candidate controlled committees.
The goal is to make this important data accessible to all voters. A large list of numbers can be difficult to get through (I know that my eyes tend to glaze over such things), so OpenOakland wanted to make this data easier to "find, see, search, and understand."
You can view a chart that compares the campaign finances for all 15 candidates. The data categories include:
You can also click on each candidate and get a snapshot of the candidate's background as well as the candidate's campaign spending and contributions. See the snapshot for incumbent mayor Jean Quan below:
The data comes from the State of California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) Form 460, which is required for all state and local recipient committees (including candidates, officeholders, and controlled committees). A candidate must file a Form 460 if the candidate has raised or spent more than $1,000 on a campaign.
OpenOakland is a Code for America local chapter that "works to improve the lives of Oaklanders by advancing civic innovation and open government through community partnerships, engaged volunteers, and civic technology."
This group of tech-savvy, civic-minded volunteers creates digital tools that help Oakland citizens access public information more easily. OpenOakland meets weekly to tackle projects such as public safety, community and economic development, and of course, open government.
Is your organization working on open data or transparent government projects? Let us know in the comments below.
Image 1: Theresa Thompson / CC BY
Image 2: TaxRebate.org.uk / CC BY
Ginny Mies is a Content Curator at TechSoup Global.
This work is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International License.
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