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  • Go back to Tracker -- Winter 1998

    Managing the Data
    Samantha P. Sanchez
    Co-Director of the National Institute on Money in State Politics
    and Project Director Money in Western Politics Project

    Gathering information on campaign contributions to state legislative and gubernatorial candidates is a time-consuming and tricky process. In many states, the reports filed by candidates are never processed, audited or compiled into any useful form of information. That leaves reporters to sift through the reports on the day of the filing deadline, looking for big numbers and familiar names for a story on money in politics.

    With the contributions in a database, however, multiple gifts by a single contributor can be aggregated for a more accurate picture of where the money is coming from. Contributions can be arrayed by date to show who gets early money or, perhaps, who gets money after the election. Or, it can be arrayed by party to see how the battle for control of the legislature goes. Members of a particular legislative committee can be selected to see how the money flows from the interests that they govern.

    If the contributors in the database are identified by their economic interests, the data can be even more useful. If you want to know what a particular industry such as, say, tobacco gave to the legislature, or which parties got money from certain interests, it is a simple look-up query to the database.

    The National Institute on Money in State Politics has comprehensive campaign contribution data on several states. The Institute is an outgrowth of the Money in Western Politics Project of the Western States Center, which has been gathering and analyzing databases for nearly six years in eight states in the West: Montana, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada, Utah and Alaska. Recently the project expanded, adding several states in New England as well as the South and changed its name to the National Institute.

    Using the coding system developed by Larry Makinson at the Center for Responsive Politics, the staff has compiled and coded more than a million contributors╣ names and makes its data available to the press and public upon request. The coding system comprises more than 400 specific code numbers which can be used to categorize contributions by more than 150 industries or 15 general groups.

    States' Status

    The most complete databases are from western states, with Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah and Nevada complete for the 1990, 1992, 1994 and 1996 elections. Some PAC and initiative data are also available in those states. Alaska is complete for 1990, and contribution data on winners are available for 1992 and 1994. The records are complete for Colorado for 1992, 1994 and 1996, although they are not yet coded.

    In the Midwest, the 1996 campaign contributions in Illinois and Michigan are complete and coding is in process. Michigan contributions for 1994 are in, but not coded, and the Indiana data for 1994 is complete, courtesy of the Center for Public Integrity.

    In the East, 1996 legislative contributions are complete in Maine (as is the 1994 gubernatorial race) and the state senate races are complete in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Georgia and Kentucky. Records for 1993, 1994 and 1995 for Rhode Island are complete but not coded.

    Plans for creating an interactive Web site are in the works and the data will be accessible from the NICAR Web site (http://www.nicar.org) as well when it is completed. In the meantime, we will provide whatever assistance we can to reporters, although our staff is limited. The National Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan educational organization supported solely by foundation grants.

    Samantha Sanchez can be reached at (406) 449-8878, or send e-mail to wschelena@desktop.org.