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Creating an open FEC

Campaign finance information is not very approachable, even when made available as open data. The laws that regulate how money can be spent around elections are important to our democracy, but sometimes it’s difficult to understand how these laws apply. Between Senate, House, and Presidential campaigns, thousands of people run for office on a regular basis (every two years for the House of Representatives, every six years for the Senate, and every four years for the Presidency).

With each election comes a huge collection of information on candidates and political committees, most notably the contributions and expenditures they receive and make. This information can, at times, be difficult to understand, especially without a full understanding of the context of the rules and regulations around how it is collected and monitored.

The good news is that this information is already made available for public use by the Federal Election Commission (FEC). The FEC is a regulatory agency that, among other things, releases campaign finance information. The commission is bipartisan and has long shown a commitment to making sure their actions fairly and equitably disclose important data around certain election activities. This data powers important work by a number of transparency groups, is used by journalists to report on election trends, and informs the public about how money is spent around federal elections.

A few weeks ago, FEC and 18F started to explore how all of this great information can be better presented to the public. Over the past few weeks, we’ve begun learning all we can about the FEC, the process by which it collects and shares data, and how individuals outside of FEC use that data on a regular basis to gain insights into the workings of our democracy.

Users of the FEC website vary in profession and expertise in campaign finance policy and laws, which leads us to consider:

  • Different formats and presentations
  • Interactive web presentation or aggregated data as CSV reports
  • Raw filing data for independent analysis

Creating a solution that will be effective for different use cases is a challenge — exactly the type of challenge that fits what 18F was created for. We’re excited about the opportunity to work on a project of such critical importance to the United States.

We’re still learning about the FEC’s current and future users and will continue working with groups both inside and outside FEC to better understand their needs. We are performing research to better understand FEC’s current audience, as well as the audience they’re not currently reaching. We will test the strengths and weaknesses of our ideas and understanding of the FEC’s website users by developing small-scale prototypes we think will address user needs then let people use and critique these prototypes.

This work, and your input, will directly impact how we and the FEC reimagine their digital presence. Please follow our repository and send us specific requests or ideas through our issue tracker. You can also be bold and provide us a specific approach or implementation idea through a pull request! We can’t wait to work with you to create a more elegant, user friendly, and accessible way to interact with the FEC.

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