Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Groundbreaking Campaign Finance Transparency Tool for Minneapolis Elections

Today, MSP Votes is debuting a groundbreaking new campaign finance transparency tool. We have combed through the finance reports of every City Council, Mayoral, and Park Board candidate for the last two years (from January 1, 2016 to July 25, 2017). We have compiled the most significant donations (nearly 1000!) and plugged that data into MSP Votes (alongside all the great info you can already access in our candidate profiles).

Where possible, donors have been categorized (developer, restaurant, fire, police, etc). These categories are visible on candidate pages, and through the campaign finance link at the top of the screen. If you want to find a particular donor or organization, you can search the site via the 🔍 icon.

From the Jacob Frey page.

Donors are often linked to an organization or employer. On an organization’s page you will see donors affiliated with that organization. 

The below example shows donations received by Lisa Goodman from individual donors associated with what we're calling the "Peter Hafiz strip club empire" (notable for the amount they donate, and because earlier this year Hafiz was found to be subjecting his employees to dangerous working conditions).

From the "Hafiz" page.

The below example shows a portion of the page for the Minneapolis Downtown Council, which includes donations from the organization and from CEO Steve Cramer.

From the Minneapolis Downtown Council page.

Each donor/organization page has a timeline of donations. Each circle represents one donation. The larger the circle, the larger the donation. The below example shows a large cluster of donations to Blong Yang and Barb Johnson from fire fighters and fire unions in March of 2017.

From the "Fire" (firefighters) category.

Lobbyist profiles include donations, as well as a link to their lobbying records from the Minnesota Campaign Finance Board (which has a surprisingly cool website).

Lobbyist profiles on MSP Votes link directly to lobbyist reports from the state of Minnesota.

Minnesota Campaign Finance Board website.

If you come across a particularly interesting campaign contribution, click the arrow next to that donation to share it with your friends on social media. Such fun! (My favorite donations are the police/fire/Brian Rice donations to Barb Johnson and Blong Yang.)

Share your favorite donations!

This tool was created in the interests of transparency. We think campaign contributions (like endorsements) are sometimes useful for understanding where an elected official stands ideologically or, in some cases, demonstrate a problematic affiliation (Bob Kroll and the police union!). But before you dig in, here’s some important things you should know:
  • This database does not contain a comprehensive list of all donors. We used our own editorial judgment to select donors based on the following criteria: notable donors or employers; high-dollar donors; and repeat donors. 
  • Examining dozens of reports to manually compile this data is a time-consuming process subject to human error; we have undoubtedly missed some things. If you believe you’ve found a glaring omission, you can help by sending us an email or direct message--we’ll look into it.
  • Hennepin County needs to begin requiring reports to be filed and published in machine-readable format. This would make similar transparency projects much less laborious and far more comprehensive: more effort could be spent annotating data rather than entering it.
  • Campaign contributions by themselves are not a smoking gun. Please use this tool wisely. 

You may have noticed this tool does not include St. Paul campaign finance data. There are a few reasons for this. First, St. Paul is just not that interesting (St. Paul's government could be taken over tomorrow by big donors who’d like to turn the Ford Site into a giant pyramidal parking garage and we would barely notice). But more importantly, we don’t have the humanpower. If you are willing to volunteer to compile St. Paul data, please be in touch!

The MSP Votes project is driven by the genius of Ryan Johnson, and you can support his work here: patreon.com/mspvotes.