The landscape of municipal campaign finance disclosures varies greatly. As our research revealed, there is a broad range in how much campaign finance information cities release online and what formats are used for releasing it. After exploring the best practices for collecting and releasing this information, we created a Municipal Campaign Finance Data Guidebook. This guide addresses what kinds of information should be included in a campaign finance dataset, and it looks at how that data should be collected and shared along with examples of the impact of having this information available in an open way.
So, how do municipalities measure up to these standards? We're taking a close look at three cities -- Albuquerque, Alexandria, and Oakland -- to explore what they are doing well and where their campaign finance disclosure can improve.
Yesterday, we looked at Albuquerque. Today, we turn to Alexandria, Virginia.
I. What data is available
Alexandria shares its campaign finance information on a web portal with reports grouped by the office up for election (ranging from mayor and city council positions to the race for sheriff). Each of the links for specific races leads to a list of reports from those who ran for the office. Each of these lists include links to registration reports, independent expenditure reports, termination reports, and more for candidates.
Registration reports include candidate information, contact information, the date of registration, and banking information -- the main fields recommended in our Guidebook. The data available in activity reports also meets the thresholds set by the Guidebook. The reports include the name of the individual or group that made the expenditure or contribution, the address of the individual or group, the date, how much was spent or received, the candidate or issue at stake and whether the money went to support or oppose it, and a description of expenditures (advertisement, handouts at the polls, etc.). Reports also include the name of the person who authorized an expenditure, and some have a State Board of Elections ID number, which can help track groups across forms. Some activity reports include starting and ending balances for reporting periods, too. Termination reports include most of the information found in registration reports, along with final disclosures of money that has been received or spent (including details like bank interest, any refunds, loan details, and more).