FEC Web site helps journalists track campaign contributions

By BOLTON LANCASTER

As the presidential election is nearing, there are a plethora of journalism stories focusing on the candidates and their campaigns. The presidential trail costs millions of dollars to travel down and it is often essential to find out where these funds originate. Before the age of the Internet, this could be a long, time-consuming endeavor.

But in the digital age, all of this information is just a click away.

Perhaps the most important website when dealing with campaign contributions is the Federal Election Commission, or FEC (http://www.fec.gov/). The FEC gathers and publishes all of the raw data dealing with campaign contributions, acting as a primary source for most other websites dealing with contributions. Downloadable data of electronically filed reports are available on the website, which not many other sites have. The downside, however, is that it does not have a very user-friendly website, making it difficult to find information. Additionally, it does not present the data in a way that is easy to understand.

Open Secrets and its website OpenSecrets.org obtain data from the FEC, but organizes the data in a much clearer way and has a user-friendly website. For example, there is a link that focuses on the presidential candidates. This part of the site displays graphics and tables for their source of funds, top contributors, top states, sector totals, top industries, and their quality of disclosure. Additionally, another part of the website displays graphs that allow viewers to see week-by-week funding by Super PACs that show who they support.

The Huffington Post also offers a website, called Fundrace, that organizes and effectively displays information gathered from the FEC (http://fundrace.huffingtonpost.com/). Fundrace allows visitors to search for individuals and see if someone has contributed money and to whom the contributions were given. It also has a map of the country that displays what areas have made political donations and the party they support. Graphics also show political party campaign contributions based on companies, cities, and occupations.

The website FollowTheMoney.org also offers graphics that could be useful to political journalists. Even though they do not have the best-designed layout, they make it simple for viewers to figure out what legislative district they are in, who represents them, and what candidates’ campaign contributions have been. This can be especially helpful when tracking local elections. They also have a wide variety of other information, categorized under “wide-angle lens” and “deeper focus,” that has a more national scope.

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