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Debate Night Snacks: Help ProPublica Take a Bite out Dark Money Spending

Tonight, while Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are preparing their foreign policy talking points for the final presidential debate of the 2012 election, we’ll be joining a group of Ohio volunteers focused on uncovering political spending at home. And you can, too.

The NewsOutlet — a consortium of college and professional news organizations — has organized volunteers at Youngstown State University to review and log political ad files ahead of tonight’s debate as part of ProPublica’s Free the Files project. Anyone can participate by logging into Free the Files and answering four simple questions about each ad file (and follow along with The NewsOutlet on Twitter at #FreeTheFiles) tonight from 6 to 8 p.m.

These political files were previously only available by visiting TV stations in person. But in August, the Federal Communications Commission began requiring stations in the top 50 markets to publish their files online.

Since then, nearly 675 volunteers have uncovered $407 million in ad buys in the files, including $90.7 million so far in Cleveland, Akron and Canton — the most of any other market in the Free the Files database. Indeed, a recent study by Wells Fargo Securities found that Cleveland ranked second in the nation for political spending.

As one volunteer, Lily Korte, told the Akron Beacon Journal, “Eventually you reach a point where something like $50,000 seems like a tiny amount of money because you just saw an ad buy that was half a million dollars. It’s just ridiculous. It’s thousands and thousands of these things.”

With just 15 days left until the election, here’s a look at the markets where we’ve made most progress so far (with many thanks to the volunteers who’ve helped get us here).

To help us make more progress in any of these markets, choose it from the drop-down below and then click “free a file.”

If you’re interested in obtaining files from your local television station or any of the other markets not covered by the FCC’s top 50, the Political Ad Sleuth project is collecting those files. The Sunlight Foundation will also be hosting a data happy hour this Thursday in Washington, D.C., and Boston for volunteers interested in meeting up.

Ohio Free the Files Meetup

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