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.
What Transparency USA does is wade 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.
First up is Texas, the state where Transparency USA began, and where we developed the process that we have adapted to meet the reporting requirements of every state we’ve added since. Here’s how we get the numbers you see on our Texas page:
Transparency USA imports the “Campaign Finance CSV Database.” Here’s how those files are categorized, and how they are represented on our site.
After importing the Texas CSV data, the reported campaign finance information is organized into the following alphabetized categories: Assets, Candidates Receiving Direct Campaign Expenditure, Contributions, Cover Sheets, Credits, Debts, Expenditures, Filers, Final Reports, Loans, Pledges, Specific-Purpose Committees, and Travel Outside of the US.
Explanations are provided below. Transparency USA uses data from five of the available categories.
These records are described by Texas as “Assets valued at $500 or more for judicial filers only.”
Transparency USA currently does not import any data from these files.
Texas says the following about records in these files:
“Candidates benefiting from a direct campaign expenditure. A direct campaign expenditure to benefit a candidate is not a political contribution to that candidate. Instead, a direct campaign expenditure is a campaign expenditure made on someone else’s behalf and without the prior consent or approval of that person.”
Transparency USA does not currently import these records because they are already represented in the expenditure files.
These reports include all contributions, including monetary and non-monetary in-kind contributions.
Transparency USA imports all data from these files without differentiating between contribution types, and works to deduplicate records that were reported in overlapping or amended reports.
Cover sheets contain summary information about 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 records include non-contribution money received by the campaign, described by Texas as “interest, credits, gains, refunds, and contributions returned to filer.”
Transparency USA does not yet import this data for Texas, as we do with some other states. We’re in the process of adding reported credits to the Texas database, and will begin displaying it soon.
These records include outstanding loans to judicial candidates.
Transparency USA does not import this data.
Organizations report money spent or donated to others as expenditures.
Transparency USA imports all data from these files and makes an effort to deduplicate records that were reported in overlapping or amended reports.
These records describe each political action committee (PAC) registered in Texas.
Transparency USA imports the committee name and unique state identification number.
These reports are for filers that are closing down and ending their filing obligations.
Transparency USA does not import this data.
Filers must report loans received.
Transparency USA imports these, and displays them in our loans tab. Loan repayments are listed as expenditures.
If a supporter commits to contributing a certain amount of money to a committee and the committee agrees to accept it, it must be reported, even though the contribution has not actually changed hands, yet.
When money does finally change hands, it will be reported as a contribution.
Transparency USA does not import this data, in order to avoid duplicate reports of the pledge and corresponding contribution.
According to the Texas Ethics Commission, these reports contain links between specific-purpose committees (FILER_TYPE = SPAC, JSPC and SCPC) and the candidates/office holders they support, oppose or assist.
Transparency USA does not currently use this data.
Records in these files are linked to contributions, pledges, and expenditures, and provide some additional information about travel out of state.
Transparency USA does not use these records, because this data is included within the reported contributions and expenditures.
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 Texas? This data explanation is part of our Texas Political Profile, where you can explore more of the regulatory details governing money in the Lone Star State. You can also see how we find and report information on Texas lobbying here. Be sure to check back for updated government information as newly elected candidates officially take office.