Institute Expands Access to Political Donor Data: APIs, Widgets Allow Users to Link Their Information Directly to State Campaign-Finance Data
"In the political world, transparency is said to be the best disinfectant against unethical behavior and corruption," said Edwin Bender, executive director of the National Institute on Money in State Politics. "With the development of these new transparency tools, we hope to empower citizens with the best information possible with which to measure the actions of both candidates seeking public office and elected officials shaping public policy.”
To date, the Institute's outreach efforts focused on making all its data available to the public for free at www.followthemoney.org. But Bender said that the new APIs and widgets enable people following state elections or specific issues to showcase the information that is most important to them on their own web site, and combine it with their own information. “This means that if someone is blogging on health-care issues, for example, they'll be able to add an API that draws down updated contribution data to highlight the points they're making.”
This move into the Web 2.0 environment coincides with the Institute's compilation of its 50-state contributions database for the 2006 election cycle, the fourth election cycle for which the Institute has comprehensive data. Each election cycle, the Institute combs through more than 90,000 disclosure reports filed by more than 16,000 state-level candidates and committees to gather more than 3 million records of contributor information.
The Institute is unique in the country for its comprehensiveness, something not lost on the press and academics studying state politics and policy: “Data from the National Institute on Money in State Politics informs discussions of public policy, media coverage, and the research of national scholars,” said Bender. “These new tools will make it easier for everyone to use our data in their work and on their Web sites.”
The Institute has been able to accomplish its ambitious and unique undertaking with the financial support of some of the most prestigious foundations in the country. Launched in 1999, the Institute has had strong support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Ford Foundation, The Pew Charitable Trusts, the JEHT Foundation, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Open Society Institute and the Sunlight Foundation (with technical support from Sunlight Labs).
"The public owes a great deal to these organizations, which understand that accurate, unbiased information is the foundation on which a thoughtful dialogue about the integrity and future of our democratic institutions needs to be based," said Bender.