It can be tough to figure out how private money influences government as it flows through the political process. Not only are there gaps in required reporting about money and gifts showered on politicians and elected officials, the data that is publicly available is often unwieldy to work with, found in hundreds of individual reports or in spreadsheets that may have both duplicative and missing data.
One of our jobs as journalists is to make sense of it all, so that it informs our reporting on the political and governance process. At New Mexico In Depth, we’ve acquired skills and tools that help us crack open large sets of data, and we are able to work with talented data analysts and coders.
But we also believe it’s super important for the public to be able to search data, bringing their own knowledge to bear on the issue of how money affects political outcomes.
That’s why we’ve expanded the Openness Project just in time for the 2018 election.
The Openness Project is a web portal that contains robust visualizations and highly searchable and interconnected content designed to help you understand who’s raising the most money and where that money is coming from at the state and county levels in New Mexico (search FEC data to follow the money in the U.S. congressional races).
The data that fuels the site comes directly from New Mexico Secretary of State data tables.
This year will bring the state a new governor. And there are a couple more statewide offices that are open. State legislators are running, and there are a host of county elections. We’ve included them all, organized by race. And there’s also a whole new section about lobbyists.
Lobbyists and Campaigns: Making the Connection
Lobbyists and their employers give campaign contributions – a lot of them. And they spend money taking elected officials out to dinner, throwing big events for them, and giving them gifts.
They must file their own public reports with the Secretary of State detailing the money they’ve spent on elected officials and contributions made to candidates and political committees.
Those same contributions must also be reported by the candidate or political action committee that received them. So the two reports should be mirror images. Kind of like a check register: money out, money in. The two sides should balance. Most of the time they do.
What the lobbyist reports are most useful for is the insight gained from knowing how much of the money contributed every year is being spent by companies and organizations that have paid lobbyists actively seeking to influence elected officials.
Want to see how a lobbyist spends money? The Openness Project’s new lobbyist portal makes it easy to find out.
Search for them by name, or sort through the list in the lobbyist portal.
Want to see if an organization has a registered lobbyist? Search for them to see their history of contributions, expenditures and whether or not they are a lobbyist employer. If they’re a lobbyist employer, click on their lobbyist’s name to see if that lobbyist is spending money, and on whom.
The Openness Project is designed to help you follow the money. Columns can be ordered from high to low, the search bar will help you find people and organizations, and you’ll find content on every page that links to other relevant pages of the site.
About the Data
The Openness Project is an open source product of New Mexico In Depth, utilizing the services of Chicago-based civic technology company DataMade to build and maintain the site.
The data–which goes back to 2010–comes directly from campaign finance and lobbyist reports submitted to the New Mexico Secretary of State. We greatly appreciate the assistance of Secretary of State staff in helping us acquire the data tables.
Because producing the tables requires a separate export process, there are occasionally discrepancies between the data stored here and the data as published on the SOS data portal. If you notice a discrepancy, please let us know so we can look into it.
You can see when the latest update was made in the footer of the website. One caveat: The site is updated as soon as possible after each official reporting period, but can take up to a week or so to fully update after a new round of reports are filed.
How we determined how to group campaigns by “race”
Campaigns aren’t grouped by race in the data we receive from the Secretary of State. So, in creating them, we determine two campaigns to be in the same race if they are vying for: the same office (e.g. State Representative), in the same election cycle, in the same district or division.
This methodology for categorizing races work pretty well, but it’s not perfect. If you notice something wrong, let us know.
The data spreadsheets offered for download might look slightly different from what you can download from the SOS data portal. There might be different columns, for instance. That’s because the data gets exported from their database to spreadsheets, which are then imported into DataMade’s database. From that database, Openness Project spreadsheets are generated for users to download. The process works well, but if you notice discrepancies, please let us know so we can take a look at it.
Share your thoughts
New Mexico In Depth would like to hear what you think would improve this project. We’d also like to know what you find that might lead to a reported story.
Please give us tips or suggested improvements: Tips or Suggestions.
Don’t be shy!
Just want to say how awesome it is that you’re doing this! I left New Mexico years ago to return to Mississippi and my family, and I keep up with what’s happening in my adopted state primarily through your reporting. I enjoy working with data, so I have some grasp of just what this took, and I think it’s superb that you have done this work and are making it available. Truly phenomenal!