FEC maps out finance data

Site taps database of who's giving to whom

'You can see very quickly how the sources of financial support for these candidates are distributed.' ' Bob Biersack, FEC

Just as the 2008 presidential campaign starts to heat up, the Federal Election Commission has unveiled a map-based Web application that shows at a glance which areas of the country are making the largest contributions to presidential campaigns.

As of last week, visitors to www.fec.gov can click on a map of the United States and see circles that represent the amount of contributions made to a presidential campaign. The larger the circle, the more money contributed. Mousing a cursor over a state will reveal the total amount contributed in that state to presidential campaigns.

Users can sort the graphic by party, candidate, state and the first three digits of a ZIP code. And by drilling down into an Oracle database, visitors can find contributors listed by name, city, state, ZIP code and amount. Only individuals who contributed $200 or more in an election cycle are listed.

A visitor can click on California, for example, and map the location down to the city level of contributors, shown by circles on the map. A click on one of the circles takes the user to a sortable table that can be exported to Microsoft Excel.

Tasked with administering finance laws for federal elections, FEC enforces restrictions on how much people can give to presidential, congressional and other campaigns.

Information about who is raising how much money and where has been available since the birth of the commission in 1975, but not in the sort of graphic, visual display FEC launched last week.

'You can see very quickly how the sources of financial support for these candidates are distributed,' FEC press officer Bob Biersack said.

To be included in the finance data, a candidate has to have raised at least $10,000 from 'sources outside of their own bank account,' Biersack said.

Commission officials see the application as 'a base for more elaborate information about the candidates,' Biersack said. The potential audience for the site could be huge: interested citizens, political action committees, assorted campaign finance watchdog groups such as Opensecrets.org, and of course, the press, bloggers and other assorted outlets.

To accommodate the extra traffic, the FEC is ordering new servers. The data now on the site reflects contributions received as of March 31. The next update will be July 16 ' a day after the next batch of campaign contribution reports are filed 'and will cover campaign finance data through June 30.

'We're interested in reaching out to the public, and we want to make [campaign finance issues] approachable for them,' Biersack said.

FEC employees developed the site using OptiMap 7 server-based mapping software and PopChart 7 charting and graphing software. Support and some training from Corda were included with the packages, said Leslie Proctor, marketing and communications manager at Corda.

All the development work for the application was done in-house, using JavaScript and the commission's existing Oracle database.

The project took six weeks from start to finish and cost $12,000.

About the Author

Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.

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