As the 2014 elections approach, it’s not just the candidates who are raising and spending huge amounts of money to try win votes. Super PACs and dark money groups are already hitting the airwaves, hammering members of Congress and their likely challengers. Understanding who these organizations are — and who is behind them — is as important as knowing the financial interests that are more directly backing candidates and political parties.
Three investigative newsrooms well versed in covering campaign finance — Center for Public Integrity, Center for Responsive Politics and Sunlight Foundation — are teaming up to offer training that helps reporters make sense of all this data ahead of the 2014 midterm elections. The Investigative News Network is coordinating the weekend-long event.
The in-depth training starts with the basics of campaign finance and moves into the post-Citizens United landscape, looking at super PACs and nonprofit organizations that don’t disclose their donors — often referred to as dark money groups. You’ll learn how to follow the money, including dark money, and how to use online tools from Sunlight, OpenSecrets and more. You’ll also hear from veteran political reporters and discuss how to turn all this data into high-impact stories when you return to the newsroom.
Topics to be covered include:
- Going beyond FEC disclosures: Tips on who to talk to, what to look for and how to get the most from campaign disclosures and human sources. Rules of the road for candidates, political parties and traditional PACs, and where to get data. How to background major donors and track the payback.
- The post-Citizens United world: Super PACs, hybrid super PACs, independent expenditures, electioneering communications and nonprofits. How to use 990s and other public documents to find some of the donors behind secretive groups.
- Tools for tracking political spending: Political Ad Sleuth, Ad Hawk, Political Party Time, Real-Time FEC, CitizenAudit.org, CRP’s Anomaly Tracker and CPI’s database of corporate spending disclosures and more.
- Working with data: How do you make sense of the reams of data you’ve downloaded from campaigns and super PACs? Hands-on training for learning best practices for dealing with data.
- Collaboration: Best practices and possibilities for story collaboration among nonprofit and traditional newsrooms.
The training is set for May 9-10 in Washington, D.C. Travel and accommodation stipends are available for reporters outside the D.C. area (you can note your need on the application). Reporters can apply online starting today. UPDATE: The deadline is March 14. This event is funded through a generous grant from the Democracy Fund.