The 2016 presidential election is already on track to be the most expensive in history. To help users of campaign finance data keep up with record spending, providing them with immediate updates, today ProPublica launched its Campaign Finance API. First created by the New York Times in 2008, ProPublica has taken over management of the API, which enables access to records filed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC). Under new hosting by the non-profit newsroom, the system will be continuously updated, every 15 minutes, with new electronic filings from candidates and outside groups.
“A lot of data about federal campaign contributions and expenditures is available, but it’s often difficult to access and navigate,” said ProPublica news applications developer Derek Willis, who previously maintained the API for the New York Times. “The ProPublica Campaign Finance API makes it easy to browse details about specific types of filings and filings for specific dates, and it’s timelier than the FEC’s own API. While the FEC updates its data nightly, ProPublica’s API is updated throughout each day, with information provided minutes after a new filing is submitted.”
An “application programming interface,” or API, enables two software programs to communicate with one another and share data. ProPublica’s Campaign Finance API allows developers to use campaign finance data to build their own apps that let users see the financial details of presidential and congressional races, as well as the outside groups that spend money on them. During the 2012 campaign, ProPublica used the API to power PAC Track, which detailed super PAC spending.
While the API has helped political scientists, journalists and other researchers analyze campaign data since 2008, it requires constant maintenance – especially in light of the 24-hour political news cycle. Moving it to ProPublica, whose non-profit model allows for the dedication of greater resources toward the required updates, was an easy decision.
“Since Derek launched the Campaign Finance API at the Times, this service has had an incredible influence on not only campaign finance reporting, but on defining the open ethos of journalism and technology as a whole,” said Chase Davis, deputy editor for interactive news at the New York Times. “We're excited to see ProPublica continue the important work of improving it as the role of money in elections continues to grow.”
In addition to providing campaign finance data to the public, ProPublica itself uses the Campaign Finance API to power another one of its news applications, the FEC Itemizer. This tool enables users to find and browse individual contributions to federal candidates, as well as learn where the money is being spent. Hosting the API now makes it easier for ProPublica developers to add new features to the FEC Itemizer as the newsroom continues reporting on the 2016 campaign.
For details on how to use the system, see Willis’ Nerd Blog post, Meet the ProPublica Campaign Finance API, Same as the Old API.