● OpenSecrets has a clever feature called Get Local! that will sort the data almost anyway you can imagine: top donors by state, leading industries for campaign contributions in a particular area, county-by-county breakdowns of giving, how much of a candidate’s money comes from out of state, and much more. You can even break down contributions by Zip code. I learned that here in Colorado, the Zip code doing the most giving so far during the 2012 cycle is in the Denver suburb of Englewood. Most of that money is going to Mitt Romney’s campaign, a pro-Romney super PAC, or the National Republican Congressional Committee. The single biggest donor in that neighborhood? Gregory Maffei, president of Liberty Media, who gave $100,000 to Romney’s friends at Restore our Future.
● Sunlight offers a variety of creative tools; one of the most imaginative is Politigraft, which filters a story to identify connections between candidates and the other people, companies, and organizations mentioned. (Here’s what it looks like for an installment of the Politico Influence newsletter.) The feature is available to the public, but Sunlight’s Bill Allison notes it can also be used by reporters prior to publication. “Say you’re writing about a state contract and there are state lawmakers mentioned,” he says. “You can run that text through Poligraft and just see if any of those companies have contributed to those state legislators or the governor or whomever.”
● How about other ways to get this data in front of local readers? These sites offer a mix of simple widgets and customizable APIs that will present their data on other sites. For example, OpenSecrets offers widgets that can show how much rival candidates in a House or Senate race have raised from a particular industry. And Sunlight offers ten “Politiwidgets,” including a basic “Top 5 Contributors” widget (not yet updated for the 2012 cycle) that lists a candidates’ major supporters. All the widgets are free, easy to build, and easy to embed in stories or blog posts.
News sites that want a greater ability to customize the data can upgrade to APIs, or application program interfaces. Project Votesmart, a voter resource site that is essentially an encyclopedia of elected officials, uses APIs to get its state campaign finance information from FollowTheMoney and federal figures from OpenSecrets. Local media organizations might use the same technology to cull the parts of this mountain of data that are relevant to their readers and stream it directly to their sites.
OpenSecrets offers a variety of public APIs and frequently writes custom APIs for media organizations—it has agreements with several dozen outlets this cycle—though theAPIs are generally free only to non-profit organizations and websites without advertising, said Susan Alger, IT director. You can read about developer tools from OpenSecrets here, and from FollowTheMoney here.
● Of course, another way local news organizations could introduce their readers to this data is simply to link to it. OpenSecrets assembles comprehensive pages summarizing the campaign-finance data for every congressional race in the country. Many traditional news organizations still aren’t in the habit of using outbound links. But if local outlets covering these races don’t have the in-house resources to build campaign pages that compare to the ones the watchdog sites offer, they can—and should—prominently link to them.
Those are a few of my favorites, but these sites offer much, much more that could be of use to journalists at local news organizations—like OpenSecrets’ data on congressmembers’ personal finances, or Sunlight’s Party Time feature, which lists upcoming fundraisers for specific politicians. Got a favorite of your own? Leave it in comments below.