Poole surprisingly declined to talk on the record about his work, except to say that his job is to mine the data and put it out there, not to spin it or provide analysis or otherwise talk about what he does.
VPAP’s reports are regularly picked up by Virginia media outlets—for example, in June, by the Williamsburg Yorktown Daily and the Lynchburg News and Advance for pieces on fundraising in a local races.
Ryan Nobles, political reporter with WWBT-TV (Channel 12), the NBC affiliate in Richmond, told me via email that VPAP
make[s] my job much easier because they take very complex data and streamline the material in a way that is simple to obtain. I rarely have time to sift through data reports from the Board of Elections that detail donors to look for trends or figure out how they could impact a race. In many cases, it takes one simple search of their incredibly useful database to get what I’m looking for.VPAP’s partnership with the Center for Responsive Politics yielded a July 2 report detailing the Romney and Obama campaigns’ fundraising hauls in Virginia, by region, through May—each raised more than $2 million in the state, with most of the funds coming from northern Virginia. VPAP also broke this data down by zip code.
Two of the state’s largest news operations, The Virginian-Pilot in Virginia Beach, and The Richmond Times-Dispatch in the capital, made use of the July 2 data, with the Times-Dispatch online noting Romney’s high-end donors from the Richmond area (and Obama’s lack thereof) and in print offering a more detailed look at the fundraising numbers, and The Virginian-Pilot providing its readers with some additional context:
Nationally, Obama has outraised Romney: $255 million to $120 million through May, according to the Federal Election Commission.
Those totals that don’t reflect third party spending in support of, or opposition to, particular candidates.
Nor do they include the $4.6 million Romney’s campaign reported raising nationally — about $200,000 came from Virginia — from about 47,000 donors last week in the 24 hours after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the contested individual insurance mandate in Obama’s health care overhaul law.
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.