How To Make Campaign Finance Reports Interesting & Invaluable

When you start talking about campaign finance reports, it’s likely more than a few people in your audience will stop listening.  The phrase ‘campaign finance’ is enough to get people to turn the radio dial.

But what happens when you give your audience an interactive, visual experience?  Clicks. Lots and lots of clicks.

Click on the map to see who donated to the Propositions 1, 2 and 3 campaigns.” credit=”Emilie Ritter Saunders / StateImpact Idaho

A week before the Nov. 6 election, my StateImpact Idaho colleague Molly Messick and I sat down to do some good old fashioned data entry.  Idaho’s Secretary of State keeps an online database of campaign finance reports, but they’re hard to read (many times they’re scanned in hand-written), they aren’t sortable, and they’re certainly not presented in a visual way.

We wanted to see who was donating to the campaigns for and against Idaho’s Propositions 1, 2 and 3 (a set of education laws on the ballot for repeal).  We downloaded and printed all of the direct contributions to the Props 1, 2, 3 campaigns, and entered each donor, the amount they gave, and where they live, on a spreadsheet.  We ended up with 953 people or organizations that gave a combined total of $4.88 million.

Then, I interviewed the data.  Who are these people? What’s at stake for them? Were there more groups giving money or more individuals giving money? Here’s some of what I found:

Donor Stats For ‘Vote Yes’ (In Favor of the Education Laws)

  • 216 people or entities donated $1.76 million to the groups working to uphold the education laws
  • A third of those donors gave $1,000 or more
  • 17 donors to the “vote yes” campaign reside out-of-state
  • Those out-of-state donors contributed $540,175, or 30 percent of the total
  • Half of the people who donated to the “vote yes” campaign gave less than $100

Donor Stats For ‘Vote No’ (Against the Education Laws)

  • 737 people or entities donated $3.12 million to the groups working to repeal the education laws
  • 1 percent of the people who donated to the “vote no” campaign gave $1,000 or more
  • 10 donors to the “vote no” campaign reside out-of-state
  • Those out-of-state donors (primarily the National Education Association) contributed $2.81 million, or 90 percent of the total
  • Half of the people who contributed to the vote no campaign gave less than $15

I created the map (as shown above) that shows to top 100 donors to each campaign, and I also published the full, searchable list of 953 donors to the Props 1, 2, 3 effort.  You couldn’t find that anywhere else in Idaho — and our blog analytics show it was information people were not only interested in, but seeking.