OpenGov Voices: Oakland’s new campaign finance app
Fifteen candidates in Oakland’s mayoral race. Nearly $1 million fundraised between them — from more than 3,000 donors. Anyone tracking candidates’ money would have to trawl through some 1,000 pages of public campaign filing PDFs to find anything of interest. The resultant tangle of data inspired Open Disclosure, a new web application that sheds light on campaign money at the local level.
The app displays campaign finance information in easy-to-read, interactive tables, charts and maps. Open Disclosure is the product of a unique partnership between the City of Oakland Public Ethics Commission, which enforces Oakland’s campaign finance laws and OpenOakland, a civic innovation organization.
From Open Disclosure’s homepage, which lists Oakland’s mayoral candidates, users can drill deeper, viewing donations by zip code, top contributors, even searching by donor name.
Lauren Angius, the program analyst at the Public Ethics Commission who formed the Open Disclosure team in August 2013, believes the app will help Oakland voters. “We’re trying to reduce the complexity of campaign finance data for the average person,” she said.
“Voters need to know who is funding their candidates in order to make informed decisions in November … Open Disclosure makes it easier for voters to be informed,” wrote Daniel G. Newman, president and co-founder of MapLight, a nonpartisan research organization tracking money’s influence on politics.
The site is updated automatically when candidates submit campaign filings, so reporters will also find it easy to gather and broadcast the latest stats (largest remaining cash on hand, most out-of-city money, etc) at any given point before the November election. The app exemplifies the potential for technology to support political accountability and transparency, as well as the potential for further partnerships between city governments and tech volunteers.
The makeup of the Open Disclosure team drives home the point: city staff (who proposed the concept), long-time OpenOakland organizers and a volunteer cast of local web developers and designers drawn to the project over the last 12 months. “I like any project that takes hard-to-find data and puts it somewhere people can use it,” said developer Kyle Warneck. “And campaign finance data for local races is generally pretty hard to grab.”
Originally inspired by a campaign finance chart on New York City’s 2013 mayoral election, Open Disclosure can be adapted for any California state, county or local race; the data schema is the same across the state. To get started re-deploying this app, you can fork the source code on GitHub, as a group called Code for San Jose has already done.
Moving forward, the Open Disclosure team is soliciting feedback, especially from people with backgrounds in campaign finance, open government and journalism to help make this app more usable as well as more accurate.
Spike is the Director of Research & Technology with Urban Strategies Council, an Oakland based social justice nonprofit and speaks nationally on data driven decision making and open data. He is the co-founder and captain of OpenOakland, a Code for America Brigade. An Aussie native, he became a dual US citizen last year and voted in his first ever American election. You can reach him at @spjika or email@example.com
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