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New Open-Source Tool Gives Texans Faster Access to Campaign Finance Data

BY Miranda Neubauer | Friday, August 2 2013

A Texas Tribune news apps developer has created a new open-source tool giving Texans faster access to state campaign finance data.

In a blog post, Ryan Murphy, the developer, explains that the Texas Ethics Commission already releases campaign finance data one to two weeks after the filing deadline in text and Microsoft Access format. The Texas Tribune uses that data for its campaign finance data news app.

"But that wasn’t good enough for me. After witnessing a historic filibuster, learning our governor of more than 14 years would not run again and watching the latest state fundraising powerhouse announce his candidacy for governor, I knew I wanted breakdowns on the numbers for certain individuals as soon as I could have them," Murphy writes.

He notes that in addition, the TEC also offers a text-based representation of electronically filed reports, similar to CSV format. Based on that, he built a scraper that sends a notification every time there is an update to a politician's page. That resulted in the Texas Tribune's Campaign Finance Analyzer interactive. "After I received an alert, I’d grab the new filing ID and pull down that text representation of the filer’s report," he writes. "After some light massaging/calculations, the numbers would get added to the interactive. Once someone filed, I’d have their data ready to go within 5 minutes."

Now, Murphy has open-sourced his work underlying that interactive, creating a TEC Filing Fetcher that offers users "a command line tool that accepts any TEC filing ID you toss at it and spits back out either itemized contribution or expenditure data."

The filing IDs are available through the Texas Ethics Commission, with, for example, the information for Texans for Rick Perry available on this page.

The open source tool is available here, and Murphy is looking forward to receiving feedback.