CAL-ACCESS in action

Read the Los Angeles Times analysis that couldn’t have happened without our open-source tools

Michael Finnegan and I dug deep into Gov. Jerry Brown’s fundraising effort for a story in today’s Los Angeles Times.

What we found is that in his drive for a fourth and final term as California governor, Brown has transformed from one of the leading critics of money in politics to the master of a machine that routinely draws on six-figure checks from lobbyists and corporations.

The story would not have been possible without bulk data from the state’s CAL-ACCESS campaign finance database and CCDC’s django-calaccess-campaign-browser.

The state’s website offers some good options for exploring the money from outside interests that floods the statehouse in Sacramento, but if you want to conduct a sophisticated analysis it is no substitute for the raw data.

Using our tools, we were able to rapidly develop a custom application on top of CCDC’s open source foundation that:

  1. Discovered that nearly 20% of Brown’s campaign contributions have come in large blocks of money from the state Democratic Party, blurring the original source of more than $4.7 million funding his campaign.
  2. Documented that no other gubernatorial candidate of either party has had so much money passed on from a party since the CAL-ACCESS database came online.
  3. Identified a series of special interests that act as “double donors,” contributing hundreds of thousands of dollars more to the Democratic Party after giving the legal limit of $54,400 directly to Brown’s campaign fund.

Our story attempted to put all that into context and tell the story how Jerry Brown has, to use a term now en vogue in our politics, evolved.

In the process we contributed dozens of incremental improvements to the underlying open-source code base that we hope others can take advantage of in the future.

There’s still a long march ahead of us before our tools make this kind of work easy, but we hope that today’s story represents a first step.