By breaking down the presidential fundraising numbers by ZIP code, VPAP enabled smaller media outlets to easily localize the story. For example, one community newspaper, the Alexandria Times in northern Virginia took advantage of the VPAP report in a July 4 story, reporting that “Alexandria’s heavyweight donors bankrolled Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney with about $407,000 in donations so far this year—more than President Barack Obama’s $349,000 rake from the Democrat-leaning city,” and noting which parts of the city “opened their wallets wider for Obama” versus Romney.

In addition to its robust campaign finance database, VPAP also offers the daily ”Whipple Report,” a compilation of links to news stories on Virginia politics and government. It’s a nice snapshot of issues Virginians are talking about and how the media is covering them.

But VPAP’s focus remains on following the money, a job that’s complicated this election cycle by the surge in often tough-to-track outside spending. In response, VPAP is working on two initiatives: a look at Virginia donors to super PACs; and a report on ad buys by outside spending groups in Virginia TV markets. As always, VPAP will provide the data. It will be up to the press corps here to interpret and bring context and local meaning to the information. Here’s hoping they will be up to the task.

Tharon Giddens logged more than two decades in newspapers in Georgia and South Carolina as a writer and editor. He is now living on an alpaca farm east of Richmond, Virginia.