State by State Guide to Campaign Finance Data

VR Research has prepared a state-by-state guide to researching campaign contributions and expenditures, providing information about and links to campaign finance data in all 50 states. As more states have moved to requiring electronic filing of campaign finance reports, data has become much easier to search, has been indexed to allow many different cuts at the data and is downloadable in several formats. However, the approaches to presenting, indexing and providing access to this data vary widely by state.

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Power Search for California Campaign Contributions

The California Secretary of State in coordination with non-profit MapLight has unveiled a new Power Search tool for accessing California campaign contributions.  Power Search allows users to more readily review candidate and committee contributions and provides an easy interface for looking up individual contributors.  

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Obscure Federal Database of Wine Labels Used to Solve Mysterious Disappearance of Award-Winning Wine

A recent investigation by The Arizona Republic utilized a little-known federal database of wine, beer and spirit labels to help solve the mysterious disappearance of an award-winning wine. The U.S. Department of the Treasury Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) Public COLA Registry (Certificates of Label Approval) allows the public to search for wine, beer and spirit labels applied for by alcoholic beverage manufacturers. 

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Searching Political TV Commercials

Political TV ads from current and past campaigns can be a valuable resource when researching a candidate or campaign.  While YouTube provides a helpful starting point for finding political ads of interest, several advanced search tools are available to find how much candidates spent to buy ad time, as well as archives to find older TV ads not otherwise found online. 

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The Road to Rep. Aaron Schock's Resignation As Told By Public Records

Illinois Rep. Aaron Schock resigned today following a steady drip of revelations about ethical improprieties with his congressional and campaign spending practices.  The news investigations into Rep. Schock over recent weeks provide special insight into a number of public records research strategies and illustrate the value of those records to demonstrate how a public official has problems with wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars.  

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Michigan FOIA Laws Reformed to Improve Access to Public Records

Under a new Michigan law effective July 1, 2015, requestors of public records submitted under Michigan's Freedom of Information Act will be better protected against excessive fees and delays.  The law will improve access to Michigan's public records in several key ways, including:

  • Upon request, agencies must provide records by e-mail or other electronic non-paper formats where possible.  
  • Copy costs for paper documents will be capped at $0.10/page.
  • Public agencies would be subject to increased court-ordered fines if an agency is found to have unlawfully denied, delayed or overcharged for a request.

For more, see the bill text of HB 4001, and this coverage in the Detroit Free Press.  

Public Records Access Outside of the United States

Recent press coverage of ties between a Mexican company with major public works contracts and the administration of President Enrique Pena Nieto demonstrates that public records are useful in many international research applications. Here's a primer on how to find records internationally. 

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Twitter Now Searchable Back to 2006

This week Twitter announced that all public Tweets are now indexed and searchable back to 2006.  Until now, searching on Twitter's interface returned recent results from within about the last week, but searching for older Tweets required using a third-party service, such as Topsy.  While third-party services are still helpful tools for searching deleted Tweets and other advanced analyses, this is a welcome addition to Twitter's use as a research tool.  Read more in this excellent article in Wired, and more about the technical details behind the index on Twitter's Engineering Blog.