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.
Today, we turn to Albuquerque.
I. What data is available
Albuquerque shares campaign finance information through an online portal. The portal links to another page that includes more information and access to reports. The reports are grouped into several different categories by candidate, by reporting period, and more. Clicking on any grouping leads to a table or search form with data about activity. Some information is also available related to registration: the “candidate and measure finance committees” link leads to a table with the name of the committee, the elected position being impacted, and a contact name and phone number.
The information that is available from activity reports includes who made a contribution or expenditure, the amount contributed or spent, and what the money went toward. The level of detail varies depending on which category is being viewed, however, which makes it difficult to generalize the completeness of the data. A “finalize date” is included in records by candidate or measure committee — it is unclear whether this is the date a contribution or expenditure was made, and there doesn’t seem to be a key available to help decipher it.
II. What’s missing
Several key components of campaign finance disclosure appear to be missing. The activity reports are missing information about the kind of contribution and at least some are missing the exact date of contributions or expenditures (only the reporting period in which the transaction was made is noted, for some tables). There doesn’t seem to be loan or refund information, either, or overviews with total starting and ending balances. There should be more information about registration or termination, too — including important details about the date of registration or termination and banking information.
III. How data is made available
There are several different ways to access data, most of which is released in online tables. Viewing the tables requires a search — putting up a barrier by narrowing the amount of information returned. Most of the tables are not sortable, either, though some can be manipulated. From the tables, users can export data as a searchable PDF, as XML, or as an Excel spreadsheet or CSV (with XML and CSV being good examples of structured, open formats for data). A few reports are also available as PDFs in cases where candidates shared their Federal Elections Commission or New Mexico Secretary of State filings with the city. Most, though not all, of these are fully searchable.
IV. Suggested improvements
Instead of requiring a search, there could be options for searching or browsing. The tables should also allow for sorting information, and data should be available as a bulk download. Requiring electronic filing would help with open formats, bulk downloads, and providing information in real-time.
V. Other comments
The city’s website does include context information about filing requirements and schedules. It also notes the city codes that regulate campaign finance disclosure, and links are provided to enable people to review the code on their own. Additional context about any thresholds for registering or contribution limits or prohibitions would also be useful.
Photo by Flickr user J.R. VigiL