Data Explanation for Pennsylvania

Data Acquisition

The Pennsylvania Department of State provides access to campaign finance reports in two forms:

  • Web Interface Search
    • A web interface provides users the ability to search by specific criteria for reports, individual contributions, expenditures, debts, and receipts. There is no support for browsing related data, only viewing reports in PDF format.
  • Full Export of Campaign Finance Reports
    • A set of downloads provides comma-separated-value (CSV) files (described here). The data available in these files appears to mirror everything available through the web interface.

Transparency USA imports the CSV files from the “full export.”

Reported Data

The Pennsylvania data is provided in five files: Filers, Contributions, Receipts, Expenses, and Debts.

Transparency USA uses data from all five of the available categories.Explanations are provided below. 

Filers

These records represent the candidates and PACs registered with the state.

Transparency USA imports these records as a framework to organize the remaining files.

Contributions

Records in this file are reported in several categories:

  • Schedule 1
    • Part A – Contributions from PACs totaling between $50 and $250
    • Part B – Contributions from non-PAC sources totaling between $50 and $250
    • Part C – Contributions from PACs totaling over $250
    • Part D – Contributions from non-PAC sources totaling over $250
  • Schedule 2
    • Part F – In-kind contributions valued between $50 and $250
    • Part G – In-kind contributions valued over $250

Organizations report direct contributions made to them on Schedule 1 and in-kind contributions on Schedule 2. In-kind contributions are non-cash contributions of goods or services in which no money changed hands.

Transparency USA and Pennsylvania both report the majority as basic positive contributions. There are a relatively small number of contributions for negative dollar amounts. A fraction of these negative contributions have descriptions that sound like they should have been reported in other categories.

Transparency USA imports all records from these files without differentiating between contribution types. Since there is no reliable way to understand the intent behind the negative contributions, they are imported as reported to the Pennsylvania Department of State, and will show up as negative contributions on the Transparency USA site.

Receipts

Receipts are reported on Schedule 1, part E. This category includes income from interest payments, refunds, rebates, or any previous expenditure that is returned to the filer for some reason.

As with contributions, both positive and negative amounts are reported in this category. Negative amounts are an irregular recording method in campaign finance. It appears that some were intended to negate a corresponding positive amount, but not always.

Also unusual, many large positive receipt records were described as “member contributions” or “dues.” From the descriptions, it appears they should have been reported in parts A-D.

Since the receipts category typically contains returned expenditures, or non-contribution income, Transparency USA reports them as negative expenditures in some states. By doing so, they don’t indicate additional support, like contributions do, but expenditures which were returned and accurately reported.

Due to the large contribution-like receipts and the unexpected negative receipts, Transparency USA has elected to import all Pennsylvania receipts as contributions, as reported. We believe this most closely follows Pennsylvania’s reporting methods, and will be the least confusing way to display the data. For additional clarity, we have added “Schedule 1e” to the description of every record imported in this category.

Expenses

Expenses are reported on Schedule 3. They record all of a filer’s spending. Again, there are records with negative amounts in this file, and the intent of those transactions is unclear.

Transparency USA imports all of these records as expenditures, as reported to the Pennsylvania Department of State.

Debts

Outstanding debts are reported on Schedule 4. Any outstanding debt will be reported by the filer on every report, so if a debt remains outstanding over the course of several reporting periods, it will be reported several times.

Transparency USA makes an effort to report loans received by candidates or PACs, but often does not receive enough information to determine whether the debt is outstanding, paid, forgiven, etc. The loan amount received by candidates and PACs is a relevant metric to track, however, even without knowing the status of those loans.

Transparency USA imports the loan information by finding and reporting the first instance of each reported debt.