Over on The New York Times’ Open blog today is a post by Times Developer Derek Willis about the latest update to the Campaign Finance API, which we were excited to help out with.
When we started ramping up our investigation into money in politics late last year, super PACs had just started spending heavily in the early primary states. The Federal Election Commission required these committees to file reports within 24-48 hours of making expenditures, and we thought this data would be a good subject for a news application that would automatically keep up with the rapidly changing data.
To power the initial version of our PAC Track news application, we made very extensive use of the New York Times’ excellent Campaign Finance API, which tames the FEC’s unruly data into a much friendlier format.
While we were working with it, we noticed that some of the FEC data that we wanted in PAC Track wasn’t yet available in the API. In the spirit of open source, we pitched in and worked with Derek and the Times on some new features both in the API and its Ruby wrapper, CampaignCash.
More details in Derek’s post, but in short, the API now exposes each committee’s itemized contributions, as well as its "electioneering communications," which are broadcast ads in the run-up to elections usually run by 501(c)(4) nonprofits. We also worked together to create
unique_id attributes for the
ElectioneeringCommunication objects to make it easy for API users to replace records when they get amended. As part of this update, the Times also made the FEC’s data appear in the API closer to real-time, so anybody who uses the API can pull data as soon as it's posted.
We're eager to continue helping to make the Campaign Finance API even more useful for every news organization that is covering the 2012 election.