Help Sunlight Build Our FEC Testimony


Yesterday, the FEC posted a 46 page PDF file to its website asking for comments on their website. We’ve taken the entire PDF and put it up online for easy perusal. You can email the comments in to, or send them in to the FEC via mail. But to make it really easy, we’re launching our FEC Brainstorm today to solicit comments to submit to the FEC. We’ll take the best comments that are submitted and include them in our testimony, with attribution of course.

And if we’re invited to testify, we’ll also take your comments in and give them to the commissioners– including them in our verbal testimony too. While I recommend you read the entire solicitation, I’ve provided you some cliff notes for some of the more interesting questions. So if you have an idea for how the FEC can improve their website and fulfill its mandate of campaign disclosure, please submit yours here or vote on the ones that other people submit.

The FEC believes its primary audiences are: the general public, prospective voters, prospective federal candidates and officeholders, representatives of registered PAVs, members of the media (including bloggers), and members of the academic community (including think tanks). But don’t let this restrict your feedback– for instance, a good question to ask is: should the FEC be working to serve this audience, or working to fulfill its mandate? Specifically the FEC asks if it should set up different “portals” for each of these audiences, and if there are other audiences that it should consider designing a portal for.

The FEC is looking for how current users of its website are looking specifically towards using its website and how different audiences use it, and how these functions could be performed differently.

They’re also looking for feedback on the language on the website. Can users understand the information on the website easily, and if not, are there examples you can come up with where the language is not easily understood. This extends to special needs users.

The FEC is looking for feedback on their “search engines” on their website. Presently they have one “general search engine” that searches through documents and web pages on their site, and then three self contained databases that do not get included in this general search engine: a disclosure database, an advisory opinion database and an enforcement database.

The Commission wants to know if their maps are useful and if so do they need to be improved. They’re also interested in knowing whether users need to be able to sort data– by range of dates, types of committees, candidates, contributors and alphabetically.

They’re looking for comments on the way the commission should be presenting and compiling the data for users. Should users be generating their own graphs, charts and maps? Should there be a shared search method, where users can share their search queries? Should it be permission based?

How should the FEC make raw bulk data available. Are their changes or enhancements to this process that would be useful. Should the commission provide real time access to the bulk data as it is filed? How? What format should it be in?

Should the commission restructure the way they store data. Should they continue to store it in a COBOL based database?

The FEC is looking for feedback on the timeliness of their data availability. Electronically filed disclosure reports are available to the public (via download in FTP) immediately after they’re filed, but they’re reviewed by staff before they’re available to the public. Staff splits up joint contributions from married couples, adds missing committee id numbers and assigns transaction codes to them before they’re made available through search queries to the general public.

The FEC is also wondering if they should continue to use their FECFile system, a windows based application that allows people to file their campaign contributions electronically, and whether or not it is worthwhile for them to make Mac and Linux versions of the software.

Please add your ideas to the FEC Brainstorm today