08/09/17

Faster, Easier, More Accurate Data, For You

At Transparency Texas, our mission is to serve you, the freedom-loving citizens of Texas, by providing clear, easy-to-understand information about the money flowing through political hands in our great state. Most importantly, the information must be accurate.

A recent study done by the Campaign Finance Institute found that the Texas Ethics Commission (the agency responsible for collecting campaign finance data and making it available to the public) ranked dead last among all 50 states on several measures related to transparency and accessibility for citizens.

Dead last is not okay. We set out to fix that. We take all the data on the Texas Ethics Commission’s website, download it, and present it to you in a way that’s easy-to-search and easy-to-understand.

What you might not realize though, is that our data is not just easier — it’s better, more accurate, and more reliable. We feel confident that we give you the most accurate information available.

The minute the information is available for download, we start painstakingly combing through it for duplicates, confusion, and error.

There are two main types of mistakes that are not corrected on the TEC’s site. The first is name confusion. Candidates, politicians, and PACs must report every donor and donation amount. These reports are filled out by humans in offices across the state. Even with the best of intentions, mistakes are made and names are not recorded consistently.

In one office, a donation is recorded as coming from Mr. John Doe. In another office across the state, a donation from the same person is recorded as Mr. J.W. Doe. In yet another, it’s recorded as Mr. John Dough, or Mr. J. Dow, or Mrs. Jane Doe (his wife who shares a bank account), etc. These names must be linked in order to get an accurate picture of how much Mr. and Mrs. Doe have given in this election cycle and who has received their gifts. While some of this can be automated, much cannot. It takes good, old-fashioned human reasoning and research.

The TEC data is also rife with another, even more troubling error: the same transactions are often recorded twice, sometimes even three or more times. In Texas, reporting periods conclude semi-annually, at the end of June and at the end of December each year. During primary and general election cycles though, other reports are required as well, including a “30 Day Report” (due 30 days before an election) and an “8 Day Report” (due eight days before an election). In addition, there are “corrected” reports and Special Session reports.

As with many bureaucratic systems, the requirements are confusing. To avoid under-reporting, many offices will report a donation on more than one report. The result is donations appearing twice, sometimes three or even four times. The Texas Ethics Commission’s data is awash in these and other confusing errors.

We work hard to make sure our data is as accurate as possible. As soon as the data is released by the Texas Ethics Commission, our team works around the clock to clean it up and bring it to you, as quickly and accurately as possible.

Is our data perfect? Probably not. There are millions of transactions reflected on our site. But we work hard to give you the most reliable data out there. If you do find an error, please let us know. We want to fix it as quickly as possible.

We want citizens to be able to follow the money in Texas politics — easily and accurately. The first data from the new, 2018 election cycle is now live on our site. Check it out, and join us, at TransparencyTexas.org.

 

Our How It Works series pulls back the curtain on the inter-workings of state government by identifying who’s involved, defining what they do, and explaining the motivations behind their actions.

Read More Case Studies