Data Explanation for Florida

Data Acquisition

The Florida Department of State provides access to campaign finance report data in two places:

  • Web Interface Searches – The candidate and committee searches allow users to search for high-level reports. The four transaction searches allow transaction-level filtering. Users can search by several candidate (or committee) criteria (name, office, party) and contributor or payee criteria (name, address, amount, purpose, etc). This allows users to find specific transaction information but does not allow for easy browsing of the data.
  • DVDs Sent By Mail
    • A physical DVD containing all available data can be requested directly from the Florida Department of State. This process can sometimes take up to six weeks.

Florida’s web interfaces alone do not meet Transparency USA’s standards for accuracy because they are:

  1. Unreliable: Obtaining 100 percent data coverage through searching and scraping may be possible, but is a last resort since it is more prone to human error.
  2. Incomplete: Search results are missing several data points, such as the unique identifiers that Florida uses to track each committee.

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 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 extra lead time.

Florida’s Quality of Data Disclaimer

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.

Reported Data

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. 

Candidates and Committees

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.

Contributions

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.

Expenditures

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

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

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.

Updates and Deletes

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.

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.