April 13, 2012

Follow the money: A brief tutorial for Wisconsin journalists

This document, prepared for a workshop at the UW Center for Journalism Ethics conference, “Ethics and Elections: Money, Media and Politics in 2012,” presents an overview of some of the sources available to reporters and others for tracking the role of money in politics.

Web resources for campaign finance data

Government Accountability Board (http://gab.wi.gov), Campaign Finance Information System: http://cfis.wi.gov The CFIS site goes back to mid-2008; see below for link to earlier filings.

Navigation tip: From any CFIS category, hit “Expand” on left-hand side of screen to return to main menu

What follows is a list of CFIS categories, and some examples of the fields that can be searched.

A. View Registrants
Choose registrant types: PACs, conduits, recalls, state candidates, corporations, etc.
Check registrant status: Current (active), terminated (inactive)

B. View filed reports
Choose filing year, registrant name
Search for reports under “Filing period name.”

C. View Receipts
Choose contributor type, date range, receiving registrant
Important tip: Clear or change “Filing period” field (see “Please note” at top of page)
Download (and name) CSV file, highlight desired column, and use menu on bottom bar to select measure – sum, count, average. Use “Data” and “Sort” for info fields.
Tip: To preserve changes to CSV file, save as Excel file.
Searches can be done by date range, contribution type, out-of-state

D. View Expenses
Enter registrant name.
Important tip: De-select “Filing period name.”
Note comment field


Other useful GAB campaign finance sites:

For “Limits and deadlines”: http://gab.wi.gov/campaign-finance/limits-deadlines

For pre-2008 data: http://elections.state.wi.us/financereport.asp
Select a candidate, download reports

Other campaign finance sites

Wisconsin Democracy Campaign databases (all under “Follow the Money”):

Searchable database for candidate contributions: (Under: http://www.wisdc.org/database.html

Candidate profiles (under “Follow the Money): http://www.wisdc.org/candidate_profiles.html

Interest group spending: http://www.wisdc.org/index.php?module=cms&page=15

MapLight Wisconsin: http://maplight.org/wisconsin
Resource tracking contributions to state legislators, tied to votes on bills
Can search by bills, legislators, interest groups, contributions, companies, or topics.

Subject Index for 2011-12 Wis. Legislature: https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/2011/related/subject_index/index

National Institute on Money in State Politics: http://www.followthemoney.org/index.phtml

Open Secrets (good source for federal races): http://www.opensecrets.org/

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel interactive recall site: http://www.jsonline.com/watchdog/dataondemand/140931763.html

GAB statements of economic interest: http://ethics.state.wi.us/EOFR/Pages/default.aspx
Check who has filed; check financial relationships identified; search by keyword

Lobbying

GAB Eye on Lobbying:  http://ethics.state.wi.us/LobbyingRegistrationReports/LobbyingOverview.htm
Check for bill text, status (includes fiscal estimates), cost and hours
Can do searches by filing period under “Complete lobbying effort”; go to organization, then printable, then “Totals and certification”)