Data Explanation for California

Data Acquisition

The California Secretary of State provides access to campaign finance reports in two ways:

  • Web Interface
    • A web interface provides users the ability to browse by filing candidates and organizations. Users can browse more freely than many states allow, but transaction information is not displayed in a concise or consumable manner, and users may frequently find themselves on pages with no relevant data to display. There are search options, although it can be difficult to find data via search that appears while browsing.
  • TSV Download
    • A “CAL-ACCESS raw data” zip provides tab-separated-value (TSV) files for many data sets such as filers, transactions, and report summaries. Documentation is available for these files, but appears to be incomplete or out- of-date in places.

Transparency USA acquires California data through the available TSV downloads.

Reported Data

The CAL-ACCESS zip contains almost 100 files, each with a different type of record in it. Transparency USA imports five of those files to compile data on all committees, contributions, expenditures, and loans. Explanations are provided below. 


The records in these two files are used together to represent covers and the values included on them. “Covers” summarize the information contained in each report (or campaign disclosure) filed with the state similar to the information you might see on the cover sheet of a paper report. Transparency USA gets several pieces of information from the covers.

  • A unique list of filer names. These are committee names, not candidate names.
  • Unitemized transactions, which will not show up in the contributions and expenditures files. Transparency USA will display these values as contributions from donors or expenditures to payees with the following names
    • Aggregated Unitemized Contributions
    • Aggregated Unitemized In-Kind Contributions
    • Aggregated Unitemized Expenditures
  • Cash on hand as reported by each filer.
  • Information about which reports have been amended, so that we can exclude the earlier versions.

Contributions – File Name: RCPT_CD.TSV

This file contains all donations reported to the state. A single donation may be reported several times for a few different reasons, and Transparency USA attempts to exclude those duplicate records. These are the records we exclude, and why:

  • Form 496 Part 3 – This report must be filed within a certain time period following very large expenditures. It must include contributions that have not yet been reported, but all of the contributions will be included again in regularly scheduled reports – Form 460.
  • Any contribution from a report marked as having been amended.
  • Form 460 Schedule I – Miscellaneous Increases in Cash. These are not campaign contributions. They typically represent transactions such as interest earned on bank accounts. Transparency USA has chosen not to import these records in California until we can better represent the fact that they are not contributions from supporters.

Expenditures –  File Name: EXPN_CD.TSV

This file contains all expenditures reported to the state. Similar to how contributions are reported, a single expenditure may be reported several times, and so some are excluded from Transparency USA. These are:

  • Form 460 Schedule D – These are also reported on Form 461, Form 465, and Form 450 Part 5.
  • Any expenditure from a report marked as having been amended. If a report is amended several times, we will only import the latest amended version.

Loans –  File Name: LOAN_CD.TSV

This file contains all loans reported to the state. Unlike contributions and expenditures, they are only reported on one form, but in several different categories. Transparency USA excludes:

  • Form 460 Schedule H – These are loans given by, rather than given to, the filing organization. Transparency USA does not currently have a way to represent loans given by the filer on the site. When the loan recipient reports it as a loan received, we are then able to display the amount and the lender.

Party Information

Transparency USA displays the current party affiliation for active candidates and officeholders. The party information displayed may not be accurate:

  • For candidates who are not actively running for or serving in state-level office
  • When accessing candidate or officeholder data from previous election cycles

Party affiliation for active candidates and officeholders is provided by Ballotpedia.

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