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Follow the money with campaign finance data

By Donovan Harrell

Edwin Bender, executive director of The National Institute on Money in State Politics, and John Perry, a data specialist at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, offered online tools for journalists looking to gather expanded data on campaign finance and donations during “Follow the money: Lead the pack in tracking campaign finance."

Created in 1999, The National Institute on Money in State Politics is a non-profit organization that tracks and archives financial contributions to political campaigns in each state.

Data is collected and updated daily through coordination with state and federal governments. Because nine states do not used computerized data, the institute audits every piece of information collected, Bender said.

Perry presented a website sponsored by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that offers Georgia-specific data similar to what the institute provides for the entire country. With just a few clicks newspaper subscribers can get a picture of the candidate and his or her financial information.

Both websites use an Application Program Interface system, known as API, to gather data from government servers, Perry explained.

As its staff of 25 prepare for the 2016 election season, the institute plans on revolutionizing the process of gathering campaign data, Bender said. In addition to hiring more research staff, he also hopes to reach out to journalists.

"This is a platform for people to use the data and contribute," Bender said. "We want this to be a two-way street .... We want there to be innovation." 

The website is also getting an overhaul. All of the data - more than 40,000 sets - migrated over from the original website, but the new interface still lacks a few features offered on the old site, including the Legislative Committee Access Tool.

The new website offers a searching method that lets users track a specific company’s contributions to organizations and politicians.

Bender wants journalists to use the institute's data and contribute findings of their own. He hopes this collaboration will lead to new initiatives for the institute.


Donovan Harrell is a second-year broadcast journalism student at Florida A&M University. He is a 2014 CAR Conference Knight Scholar.

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