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  • Go back to Tracker -- Winter 1999

    Searching for influence
    By Matt Jacob

    With the 2000 elections quickly approaching, we at the Campaign Finance Information Center are giving our all to help journalists make the most of election stories. Wondering how much money the local insurance salesman running for state representative received? Interested in how much money a candidate received from out-of-state contributors?

    Following the campaign money trail in its entirety is one way journalists can provide more in-depth coverage of candidates. CFIC helps by collecting state campaign finance data from across the nation, making the data available to journalists, teaching reporters how to work with the data and offering story ideas.

    The CFIC Web site www.campaign finance.org is our central resource for journalists. A recent overhaul of the site provides what we think is a more user-friendly environment. Listed here are the site's features, about which we welcome your comments via e-mail at cfic-comments@ire.org.

    Individual State Pages
    Having collected information on every state, we have built a page for each. State pages offer the source and range of our information and, when available, a breakdown of top contributors, state contribution limits, contribution reporting forms and links to state-specific search engines and to state election Web sites.

    Power Search
    Out of our compiled data we've built a comprehensive search engine that allows journalists to track contribution cash flow across state lines for both federal and state races. The search provides who gives what to which candidates (contributions) as well as how the candidates spend their donations (expenditures). In some cases, it includes money flow to and from political action committees (PACs), candidate committees and party committees.

    Stories and Tips
    The CFIC collects stories that use campaign finance data to show how private money influences public policy. Journalists can search stories by publication, state, date and headline keyword. We also offer a list of sources specializing in campaign finance and tip sheets written by reporters that cover campaign finance issues.

    Using the resources and excellent training programs of Investigative Reporters and Editors and the National Institute of Computer-Assisted Reporting, the CFIC plans to offer seminars specific to covering campaign finance. Journalists will learn the skills they need to dig through data and come out with a story. The CFIC Web site will offer details on these seminars as they become available. There will also be sessions on covering campaign finance at both the IRE and NICAR national conferences.

    The CFIC has compiled the names, phone numbers and e-mail addresses of reporters covering campaign finance into a searchable database. Journalists can search by name, affiliation, city or state. The center also maintains a mailing list for journalists to exchange ideas and tips. To subscribe to CFIC-L, send an e-mail to majordomo@campaign finance.org. In the body of the message, type: subscribe cfic-l your e-mail address. The archives of the listserv can be searched online at http://notes.ire.org/cfic-l.nsf

    Tracker is the CFIC's newsletter dedicated to campaign finance coverage. Published quarterly, it is also available for viewing on our Web site. Each issue contains stories written by reporters working with campaign finance records. They share tips and tactics for tackling these often complex investigations. Past issues are also posted.

    Helpful Links
    We've pulled together a detailed list of other Web sites especially useful to journalists who are following the campaign money trail. These sites can help journalists put their data in some context with candidate profiles and candidate voting records. We also give other sources for campaign finance data.

    Matt Jacob can be reached by e-mail at matt@nicar.org