Party Time at five! Take our transparency challenge


August. It’s the month official Washington escapes the steaming city and heads elsewhere—and that includes the political fundraisers. But members of Congress and other politicians don’t stop their race for cash when they go home to their districts; instead, they take the parties with them.

This week, Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., is hosting donors for a Cubs game in Wrigley Field. Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho has a “hook and bullet” fundraiser for his political action committee in Sun Valley. On Saturday, Rep. Bill Owens, D-N.Y., will fete big givers at the Saratoga race course.

We know about all this and much, much more because on this day five years ago, we officially launched Sunlight’s one-of-a-kind database of political fundraisers, Political Party Time. Since then, we have archived some 18,000 invitations and, in the process, gained new insights — for better and for worse — into the folkways of American political life.

From the mini-golf course on DC’s gentrifying H Street NE to the links of Kiawah Island’s Sanctuary course, from Krispy Kreme breakfasts to champagne brunches, from Lambeau Field to a Beyonce concert, we’ve tracked the literally round-the-clock efforts of our nation’s elected officials to raise campaign cash and travails of their equally relentless fellow travelers: the lobbyists who must fork over the cash for a chance to dine on what goes for MRE’s in “This Town:” hors d’oeuvres on a toothpick.

It’s a system nobody really loves: not the lawmakers who publicly bemoan the hours they spend raising money nor the lobbyists whose inboxes burst with ever more innovative reasons for them to spend time away from their loved ones.

How do we know? Because some of our best sources are part of the system. Our database — which has been used by scholars, journalists advocates, and others to gain new insights into the influence of money in politics and the access that it buys — could not be possible without digital technology, or without painstaking data entry and analysis made possible by Sunlight’s generous funders.  But mostly it would not be possible without Y-O-U: citizens, journalists, and yes, professional fundraisers, lobbyists and politicians (or their aides) who have sent the emails and made the anonymous uploads.

So in honor of Party Time’s anniversary, we’re asking you to double down.

  • If you’re a journalist trying to cover the political beat and you’ve just written your scoop about a fundraiser, send us the invite.
  • If you’re a political operative trying to get the word about about a new campaign — or to alert us to an opponent’s fundraiser, send us the invite.
  • If you’re a lobbyist trying to clear out a mailbox overstuffed with political solicitations, don’t just delete. Let Party Time be your circular file.

Why do we think you’ll do this? Because some of you already do. Because everyone knows that money walks those who have it right into the intimate gatherings with law and policy makers. Because Party Time aims to give less well-heeled voters a peek into those rooms.

We believe it’s one small step towards leveling the playing field. Transparency = accountability. Armed with the knowledge that Party Time gives them, voters can make more intelligent decisions about whose interests their elected representatives are advancing.

Consider it our birthday transparency challenge: Help make Party Time even better. Already our database has powered investigations, such as this one in the New York Times; academic research, such as a recent Yale University political science study, and even may have aided a congressional ethics probe.

Yet we’re under no illusions that our database is comprehensive. Au contraire, we think we’ve just captured the tip of the political partying iceberg. Most of our invites — like our sources — come from inside the Beltway. Whether it’s a trip through California wine country or a dog sled race in Alaska, we want to include your favorite politicians’ fundraiser here. You don’t have to be on the receiving end of the invite to give us a tip. Often they are posted online and reported in the local press. Send us a tip.

Party Time is set up for anonymous submissions, but if you want to be recognized for your contribution to our transparency challenge, please let us know. We’d love to have an honor roll of politicians and others who are willing make their partying public.

Citizens of “this town” — and beyond — unite! You have nothing to lose but your golden chains. And, since I’ve said it before, it’s worth saying again: Party on dudes!

(Graphic by Caitlin Weber/Sunlight Foundation)