Fifteen candidates in the Oakland mayor’s race. Nearly $1 million dollars fundraised between them — from more than 3,000 donors. Anyone wanting to know where candidates are getting their money would have some 1,000 pages of public campaign filings, spread across a couple databases, to trawl through.
That’s why OpenOakland and the City of Oakland Public Ethics Commission are co-launching Open Disclosure, a new web application that sheds light on Oakland campaign money. The app displays campaign finance information in easy-to-read, interactive tables, charts and maps.
Open Disclosure’s team of OpenOakland volunteers and city government partners presented the app to the Public Ethics Commission, which enforces Oakland’s campaign finance laws, on September 2. The commission was excited to see the project, commending the team for its progress on open data and open government. In addition, both the commission and members of the public made thoughtful comments on how to improve the app and foster collaboration.
Moving forward, the team is open to feedback and would love to hear from you, whether you’re an Oakland resident, a reporter, a lover of data and technology, or a campaign finance expert!
One look at Open Disclosure, and you’ll see the benefits of presenting campaign finance data in simplified form. The home page lists Oakland candidates in order by total money raised — including a breakdown by number of donors, money from out of Oakland, and percentage from small donors. As money continues to heavily influence politics, voters need transparency in order to grasp these lines of influence. (Note, however, that Oakland’s campaign finance rules limit each donor to a contribution of $700 or $1400.) Oakland voters can even search for specific contributors’ names, since it’s a matter of public record.
“We’re trying to reduce the complexity of campaign finance data for the average person,” said Lauren Angius, a program analyst at the Public Ethics Commission, who formed the Open Disclosure team in August 2013.
Daniel G. Newman, President and Co-Founder of MapLight — a nonpartisan research organization tracking money’s influence on politics — thinks Angius’s team succeeded. “Voters need to know who is funding their candidates in order to make informed decisions in November. Open Disclosure makes it easier for voters to be informed,” Newman said.
Since the site is updated automatically with local government data, reporters will also find it easy to gather and broadcast stats (largest remaining cash on hand, most out-of-city money, etc) at any given point before the November election.
The app exemplifies the potential for technology and public data to support civic engagement and transparency, as well as the potential for further partnerships between city governments and tech volunteers.
The makeup of the Open Disclosure team drives home the point: city staff (Public Ethics Commission Executive Director Whitney Barazoto, who proposed the project, while Angius formed and led the team); long-time OpenOakland volunteers (Steve Spiker, Phil Wolff); and a flurry of new web developers and designers drawn to the project over the last six months (Tom Dooner, Vivian Brown, Mike Ubell, Elina Rubuliak, Kyle Warneck, Klein Lieu, and many more).
While the cast of characters changed over time, Angius — and the civic-minded mission of the project — held a core team together. Web developer Tom Dooner originally volunteered for the project because he saw it as a way to make an impact, both on the team and on Oakland.
“I want this project to make someone’s decision in November just a little bit more clear,” he said.
Inspired by a campaign finance chart in the New York Times on New York City’s 2013 mayoral election, Open Disclosure’s technology can likewise be adapted for use in other California cities and counties; the source code is ready to fork on GitHub. Another group has already used the technology behind Open Disclosure to create a similar project for San Jose.
Data: Netfile (California state system), Socrata (City of Oakland system)
- Back-end: Ruby