New betaFEC website makes it easy to dig into campaign finance data

A screenshot of the new beta.FEC.gov!

During its regularly scheduled commission meeting, the Federal Election Commission unveiled its new betaFEC site. The redesigned online home of the nation’s election watchdog — created with the help of the good folks at 18F — will give the public easily accessible and understandable campaign finance information through a host of new features.

Commissioner Ann Ravel called it a “leap forward in the goal of transparency” — and we couldn’t agree more. And a huge leap forward it was: Included in the $3.5 million overhaul is brand new infrastructure, HTTPS security and database synchronization, among other things.

To start off, it now incorporates intuitive graphics to make it easier to understand the data you’re looking at. It also allows you to search by your zip code, candidate’s name, location, donor or even keywords to dig up relevant campaign finance information. For instance, an example provided during the presentation included a search for “social media” or “Twitter” or “Facebook” all would provide you information about how much candidates have spent paying social media companies this cycle. You can also further narrow down the search results by selecting other categories like zip code and state.

We’ll have a more technical post about the site in the coming days, but here are some things you should know about the unveiling.

It was designed with the user in mind

And by that, we don’t just mean the search tool. Up until this point, the FEC data could not be linked into blogs or other sites. Now the URL will connect directly to those results so you can link. In addition, they hope to add a feature in the future which would make those search results downloadable into various, machine-readable file formats.

OpenFEC API and open source code

The FEC’s first API and code are now up and running! Everything’s available in open source formats, meaning other government agencies can use it. They believe it will save taxpayers money in the long run.

It needs your help to succeed

Since this is just the beta version of the site, the FEC is eager for feedback to make the site even better. For instance, right now the data is sorted by 2-year cycles; the FEC hopes to also group those by election terms — four years for president and six years for Senate — and would love any ideas the public has to get that done. To help out or share comments, simply email betafeedback@fec.gov or click on the “Feedback” button at the bottom of the betaFEC page.

The commissioners agree: They love it

The frequently deadlocked commission rarely agrees on anything, but they unanimously wanted this project to move forward, calling it their “fiduciary duty” to make this information available to the public. We love it when transparency and open data brings people together!