In a bid for more transparency heading into election season, the City’s Board of Ethics (BOE) and its Office of Innovation and Technology (OIT) collaborated to create a public-facing interactive dashboard to view campaign finance data.
The dashboard, currently in beta, allows users to see campaign filings from 2019 to present day, the City said, and it’s open to the public. Most of it will update daily, aside from a few sections that will update on a rolling basis.
“The data dashboard is the result of our long-term collaboration with OIT to make our filing system and data easier to use and understand,” J. Shane Creamer, Jr., executive director of the BOE, said in a statement. “We will continue to work together to help the public better access and understand campaign finance disclosures.”
Before 2019, an external vendor managed the City’s campaign finance data, which made it difficult to release the data publicly, Kistine Carolan, senior program manager of the Philly Open Data Program, told Technical.ly in an email. This project started last summer and the process to create the dashboard required understanding the existing database, cleaning and enhancing the data and setting up processes to add new data.
“Creating this tool was a challenge, but the City has prioritized making campaign finance data more user-friendly,” Mark Wheeler, the City’s chief information officer, said in a statement. “The Campaign Finance Dashboard further reinforces our commitment to transparency and equipping residents with as much information available when they’re making important voting decisions.”
The BOE provided expertise about campaign finance reporting to guide OIT as it built the dashboard. OIT’s software engineering team had previously developed a campaign finance filing system, which made it easier for filers and easier to create a database to capture the data they report, Carolan said.
“This also allows us to more easily pull the data in order to clean it and set up automation for it to power the dashboard,” Carolan said.
Developing the actual dashboard required thinking about how the data could best be displayed. The City released a user video to help residents understand navigate and understand the data.
“This dataset is one that the former Sunlight Foundation ranked as highly valuable for all city governments to release publicly,” Carolan said. “Despite the heavy lift, we prioritized this project given the way it can increase transparency around campaign finance disclosures.”
With a major election cycle coming in Philadelphia, including a race for the City’s new Mayor, Carolan said this dashboard will hopefully provide more information about candidate’s campaigns. The City is accepting feedback about the dashboard here.
“In order to have a healthy democracy, people need access to information,” she said. “Several laws require public disclosure of contributions and expenditures made to influence elections. We hope this dashboard and data makes this information more accessible and transparent.”
P.S. We’re gathering questions as we prepare to cover Philly’s 2023 political races, and we’d love your input. Tell us: When it comes to growing an inclusive innovation economy, what do you need to know about your mayoral and City Council at-large candidates to make an informed vote? Today, Feb. 1, 2023 at midnight, is the last day to submit a question.Sarah Huffman is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.
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