Badger Blog Alliance

Sic Semper Tyrannis

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Review of the GAB Campaign Finance Website

In a word yuck! The Wisconsin Government Accountability Board has revamped its campaign finance site. My interest is in the section on filed reports. In the past I have downloaded such data and analyzed the data. Once I did this with federal data and last summer with Wisconsin data.

I am here to critique the Wisconsin site, I had no problems with the Federal site and its data format (though I had to jump through some hoops to convert some fields from their native format to the format I needed) but the Wisconsin site is clumsy and does not lend itself to analysis.

My main problem is the delivery of reports. The site delivers the reports themselves via PDF and Acroread was unable to open the file and so too KPDF, it was only Ghostview that was able to read the PDF file. So, I am not certain why that should be the case, it isn't like PDF is some sort of cryptic standard that changes all the time.

My next problem with the system is again dealing with the PDF delivery of the data. The site allows you to specify all sorts of criteria to limit the results of searching and when you perform the search you may get a number of results. You can request to download that result listing in Excel, Word, or CSV formats. In my opinion, that functionality provides very limited benefit as there is little interesting data in this report.
Click on the image to see the data, you will see that it is not all that helpful.

I would not be surprised I have a utility to parse out the data from the PDF file or that I could find one to do so (or perhaps I could create one myself) but what I really want delivered in delimited (i.e. CSV) format is the data itself. My main concern when reviewing these reports is to find the amount of contributions candidates get from those who can actually vote for them. Last summer I reviewed a race and found out the candidate whom I opposed received most of her campaign contributions from those out of the district (and out of state) while my candidate's receipts came mostly from within the district.

I am not a fan of most campaign finance regulations and regulation proposals but one that appeals to me is if you can not vote for a given candidate you can not contribute money to their campaign funds. Organization contributions should be limited by the number of members who can actually vote for the candidate.