One of the top questions we receive from first-time users of our database is “Where do you get your data?”
The short answer is that we take it directly from reports provided by the regulatory body that governs campaign finance in each state. The logical followup question – which many ask – is, “So can’t I just get the data I need from there?”
And that short answer is, you can. It’s all public record. But, as with most things, it’s complicated. The state reports are often difficult to access, and even more trouble to sift through, see total contributions and expenditures, or conduct any kind of meaningful search through the data. Many times, the publicly available reports are just scans of long, handwritten forms.
Transparency USA wades through all that raw data so you don’t have to. We add it to our ever-growing database, allowing you to easily search the name of any candidate, PAC, or donor. You can quickly see a snapshot of their current financial position, along with individual transaction details and historic data.
Our “Where Did TUSA Get These Numbers?” series is for our detail-oriented users, who want to know exactly what we do to bring you the most accurate campaign finance information available for every state in our database. You’re our kind of people.
Florida is one of our most unique states, particularly when it comes to how our team gets access to campaign finance reports. It’s the only state in our growing database that physically mails us DVDs, which we think exemplifies how each state handles report data according to their own specifications. Here’s how we get the numbers you see on our Florida page.
The Florida Department of State provides access to campaign finance report data in two places:
Florida’s web interfaces alone do not meet Transparency USA’s standards for accuracy because they are:
As a result, Transparency USA has elected to request DVDs of the more complete records in lieu of using the web interface. Because Florida only provides those records on a physical DVD sent to our team by mail, there is sometimes a delay between reporting deadlines and the availability of the latest campaign finance numbers on Transparency USA. The improved quality of the data makes it worth any extra lead time.
Transparency USA has encountered issues with data entry quality in every state. This is not the fault of a single individual, department, or committee. Unintentional errors of this nature are inherent in any system involving a substantial amount of manual data entry.
The Florida Department of State provides this disclaimer about data quality on their site:
Some of the information in the campaign finance database was submitted in electronic form, and some of the information was key-entered from paper reports. Sometimes items which are not consistent with filing requirements, such as incorrect codes or incorrectly formatted or blank items, are present in the results of a query. They are incorrect in the database because they were incorrect on reports submitted to the division.
The Florida DVDs provide data in eight types of files: Candidates, Committees, Contributions, Expenditures, Distributions, Deletes, Summaries, and Updates.
Transparency USA uses data from five of these file types. Explanations are provided below.
These two files contain records representing the candidates and PACs registered with the state.
Transparency USA imports these records as a framework to organize the remaining files.
These reports include all contributions, including monetary donations, interest, loans received, and non-monetary in-kind contributions.
Records can be positive or negative. Negative records represent money that left the committee – such as donations that were refunded to the person making the donation, or loan repayments (where the original loan was a positive record).
Transparency USA imports all data from these files, maintaining their positive or negative values as reported. All contribution types, except loans, are included in total contribution numbers for Florida. Loans are categorized separately, to maintain consistency with how that data is displayed across other states in the TUSA database. Loan information can be found on the profile of any Florida candidate or PAC.
All money spent or donated by the campaign is reported in this file. Records can be positive or negative. Positive values indicate transactions such as operating expenses or donations made to other organizations. Negative values indicate refunded expenses.
Transparency USA imports all records from these files as expenditures, maintaining their positive or negative values as reported.
Distributions are all linked to other expenditure records, and provide more information about the purpose or breakdown of those expenditures.
Transparency USA does not currently import these, since the money they represent is already included in the expenditures files.
Summaries contain cover sheet information from each report filed by a PAC. Transparency USA uses these for deduplication efforts, import, and validation purposes, but does not display them on the site.
These files are provided for contributions, expenditures, and distributions. They record modifications to the three main files over time.
Because we import the latest contribution, expenditure, and distribution files every time, Transparency USA does not need the change-history within these update and delete files.
Transparency USA displays the current party affiliation for active candidates and officeholders. The party information displayed may not be accurate:
Party affiliation for active candidates and officeholders is provided by Ballotpedia.
Want more from Florida? This data explanation is part of our Florida Political Profile, where you can explore more of the regulatory details governing money in the Sunshine State. Be sure to check back for updated information throughout the election cycle, or subscribe to get the latest updates delivered straight to your inbox.