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Sunlight Foundation
Washington, DC

The Sunlight Foundation uses technology and ideas to make government transparent and accountable.

The Sunlight Foundation is:

A think-tank that develops and encourages new policies inside the government to make it more open and transparent.
A campaign to engage citizens in demanding the policies that will open government and hold their elected officials accountable for being transparent.
An investigative organization that uses the data we uncover to demonstrate why we need new policies that free government data.
A grant-giving institution that provides resources to organizations using technology to further our mission and create community
An open source technology community that revolves around the Sunlight Foundation’s core mission

Sunlight Foundation is not verified as a 501(c)3 organization.

Latest News

Jul 25, 2014

Although President Barack Obama’s administration touts its support of an open and transparent government, there’s been a glaring exception: opening up political fundraisers to the pool of White House reporters who trail the president.

So far, in 2014, President Obama has headlined 41 political fundraisers, according to data from Party Time. Of those parties, the press has been shut out of almost half – 19, to be exact. Data from Political Party Time was cross-referenced with the White House President's Schedule to distinguish between closed and open press events. Money raised at these pricey gatherings (Party Time shows that, more times than not, donors put down upwards of $32,400 to attend) benefited the Democratic National Committee, the House Majority PAC or the Senate Majority PAC.

When a fundraiser is considered “closed press,” reporters are kept completely out of the event, as in, they are holed up in vans across the street or camped out in a different room of a hotel or private residence. They are unable to hear the president’s comments or see who is attending the event. For DNC events, a White House official will often provide details, like number of attendees and ticket prices, on background.

But the super PACs coordinate their own events, meaning the groups aren’t compelled to release any details and the White House can skirt most questions about them. Even though Obama has previously voiced his disapproval of super PAC cash, he’s changed course, headlining two events apiece for the House Majority PAC and the Senate Majority PAC since June.

On Wednesday afternoon, frustration among White House reporters about the lack of information on the PAC events bubbled up in the daily press gaggle with Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz:

The questions were posed during the plane ride from the Bay Area to Los Angeles. President Obama had attended a closed-press House Majority PAC fundraiser Wednesday morning at the Four Seasons in San Francisco followed by an open-press fundraiser for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The president was en route to an open-press fundraiser for the DNC at the home of “Scandal” creator Shonda Rhimes.

The full transcript of the exchange can be found here.

Splash image credit: Flickr user Austen Hufford

Jul 25, 2014

Director of the NTIS, Hon. Bruce Borzino, testifies Wednesday. Image credit: Fedscoop
“Our goal here is to eliminate you as an agency.”

Sen. Tom Coburn’s terse statement towards Hon. Bruce Borzino, the Director of the National Technology Information Service (NTIS), succinctly summarized Wednesday’s Senate Hearing on the future of his small and beleaguered branch of the Department of Commerce. The NTIS once endeavored to provide a centralized and organized location for government documents. Now that its pay-to-access document library has become virtually obsolete as other agencies self-publish information for free, the NTIS’ very existence is being called into question by Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Coburn, R-Okla., the chairs of the Subcommittee of Financial and Contracting Oversight.

“Where you’re lucky enough to click is the difference between free and paid government information,” McCaskill noted. But a confusing mix of government data repositories both fee and free was only the beginning of the senators’ criticisms. The two slammed the NTIS’ significant access costs for both taxpayers and government entities, which they perceived as an unfair burden on taxpayers and wasteful government spending. Indeed, the cheapest and most limited subscription to the NTIS library costs $2,100, and the NTIS charged the Department of Commerce — its own parent entity — $288,000 in access fees in FY 2013. The 150-person agency, operating on $66 million in taxpayer dollars, struggles to defend itself against claims of errant spending, and its additional library access fees for taxpayers — who already pay for the service’s existence — appear equally egregious.

The NTIS library’s remaining strength may last with its size. Host to 2.8 million federal publications and, according to Borzino, an additional 30,000 titles added annually, this repository overshadows the size of other information repositories like Data.gov, which currently hosts just over 111,000 datasets. Despite charging access fees, the service has struggled to adapt its infrastructure to technological advances. The service is roughly a decade behind on technology infrastructure — it used microfiche as its main information dissemination format until a decade ago — and only recently moved online. Although the NTIS originally endeavored to centralize and index government data for the public, a goal critical in open governance, the agency’s goals are beyond what its underdeveloped technical abilities can accomplish.

In spite of indexing and centralizing of government information, public demand for the NTIS’ expensive library remains weak, with other government agencies as its main subscribers. In recent years, the NTIS has also expanded to assist with web services like hosting and connecting government entities to contractors. Sens. McCaskill and Coburn took fault with this middleman position, which they found duplicative of the General Service Administration’s work, but more expensive and wasteful. Today’s NTIS, with a cumbersome and expensive documents library as well as redundant inter-government services, is a far cry from the NTIS President Harry Truman first established, which would “promote the nation’s economic growth by providing access to information that stimulates innovation and discovery.”

Coburn officially calls for the end of the NTIS in his proposed “Let Me Google That For You” Act, a cheekily named bill representative of the new information ecosystem in which the NTIS struggles to adapt. His bill is far from the first attempt to close the small agency: the Department of Commerce also pursued shuttering the NTIS during the Clinton administration. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has criticized the NTIS’ efficiency in reports dating back to 2000. The GAO even asked the NTIS to stop publishing its reports for fees, given that it now publishes them on the GAO website for free. The fate of the agency lies in the fate of Coburn’s bill, which still sits in the Senate Committee for Commerce, Science, and Transportation. The end of the NTIS will not trigger a sudden and massive loss of government information: a 2012 GAO report estimated that 74 percent of the NTIS library is readily accessible through other public sources.

As the NTIS’ existence hangs in the balance, mired in allegations of wasteful spending and inefficiency, this outdated attempt at a centralized and indexed government information bank may soon come to an end. Yet its original vision of a centralized clearinghouse of government information remains as necessary as ever, as the internet facilitates government data disclosure but not necessarily its organization. The possible end of the NTIS is a call for more effective information and data disclosure strategies among government agencies. If the Senate deliberates on the “Let Me Google That For You” Act, they must not only think destructively in terms of abolishing the NTIS, but also constructively about how that agency’s goals can be better accomplished in the future.

Jul 25, 2014

An image of John Amos Founder of SkyTruth
John Amos Founder of SkyTruth. Image credit: SkyTruth

The Obama administration is on the brink of making a decision that would ignore a Presidential Executive Order, violate a flagship administration policy and inexplicably keep the public in the dark on an issue of national significance: the possible environmental and public health impacts of the current boom in hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for oil and gas.

The Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is finalizing a new rule to govern oil and gas drilling and fracking on millions of acres of public and Indian lands, from the spectacular tundra of Alaska, to the arid high plains of the Rocky Mountain West and the lush forests of the East. This “unconventional” drilling is targeting certain oil and natural-gas reservoirs in shale and sandstone formations that – until the geological one-two punch of horizontal drilling coupled with fracking came along – stubbornly refused to give up their fossil fuel treasure. Increasingly, drilling is moving into places where a lot of people live. The uncomfortable juxtaposition of farms, homes and schools with the intensive industrial activity of a modern drilling site is raising concern about possible contamination of surface and ground water and questions about the immediate and long-term exposure of local residents to the chemicals used in fracking. This concern is driving many in the public to call for complete and timely disclosure of the chemicals used at every fracking operation.

An image of fracking tanks at a Marcellus Shale drilling site in Tioga County, PA, 2010.
Fracking tanks at a Marcellus Shale drilling site in Tioga County, PA, 2010. Image Credit: D. Manthos, SkyTruth

With a nod to this concern, BLM’s proposed rule includes a provision for public disclosure, identifying a website called FracFocus as the preferred platform for the public to get information about the chemicals used at every future fracking operation conducted on public and Indian lands. But this site, built and hosted by an organization funded by the oil and gas industry, is not designed or operated to provide adequate public disclosure. In fact, it doesn’t comply with fundamental requirements of the President’s May 9, 2013 Executive Order on Open Data and violates the intent and spirit of this administration’s much-ballyhooed Open Data and Open Government initiatives. The chemical information is provided in PDF format, which is not machine-readable; the information is protected by copyright; and the terms of use forbid the sharing of the PDF reports. The reports lack the most basic elements of data curation, including reporting date and version control; and the ability of users to download PDFs from the site is being systematically throttled by the site administrators. Moreover, the data are regrettably incomplete: The identification of far too many chemicals is hidden behind arbitrary trade-secret claims, with no justification provided.

An image of shale gas drilling encroaching on rural residential life in southwestern Pennsylvania, 2012.
Shale gas drilling encroaches on rural residential life in southwestern Pennsylvania, 2012. Image Credit: D. Manthos, SkyTruth via LightHawk

Industry defenders of FracFocus have tried to brush off these repeated criticisms from NGOs, academia and the Department of Energy. But complete disclosure that facilitates the aggregation and analysis of chemical data for tens of thousands of wells nationwide over years of drilling activity, is crucial to enabling scientific investigation to answer one of the salient energy-policy questions of our generation: What, exactly, are the public health and environmental risks posed by modern drilling and fracking? BLM may claim that it’s too costly or complicated for the government to build its own site to curate this information and effectively serve it to the public, but we disagree. Other agency websites reliably provide public access to terabytes of well-curated, continually updated satellite imagery, weather data and toxic chemical information, to name just a few examples. This is a small-data problem. BLM should step up to the plate and take responsibility for collecting, curating and publishing this critical information in full compliance with Open Data and Open Government directives and intentions.

Ultimately this comes down to a fundamental question of identity for this administration: What do you stand for? Are you actually for openness and transparency in the operations of government, the management of public resources and the protection of public health and welfare? Do you stand by the President’s Executive Orders? Will you follow the excellent prescriptions and intentions of your Open Data and Open Government initiatives, promoting public participation in a strong democracy? Or will you hide crucial information from the public behind the façade of an ineffective and incomplete industry-controlled website?

This rulemaking is a gut-check opportunity. For the sake of public interest, I hope BLM and the administration get it right.

John Amos is an expert in the use of satellite images and other remote sensing data to understand and communicate local, regional and global environmental issues. Educated as a geologist at Cornell University (BS) and the University of Wyoming (MS), he spent 10 years applying image processing, image analysis, and digital mapping techniques to conduct environmental, exploration and resource assessment studies for the energy and mining industries and government entities. In 2001 he founded SkyTruth, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to strengthening environmental conservation by illuminating environmental problems and issues through the use of satellite images, aerial photographs, and other kinds of remote sensing and digital mapping.

Interested in writing a guest blog for Sunlight? Email us at guestblog@sunlightfoundation.com

Jul 25, 2014

Keep reading for today's look at #OpenGov news, events, and analysis, including recently released guidelines for placing individuals on the No-Fly List, difficulties in building Ireland's open data portal, and ethics commission interference from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's office.

A newspaper with the headline Open Gov
National News

  • Internal rules governing placement on the No-Fly List were published on Wednesday by the online magazine The Intercept over objections from Attorney General Eric Holder. The Obama Administration has argued that release of the list would permit terrorists to circumvent screening procedures that would prevent them from entering the United States. (New York Times)
  • The Obama White House has often claimed to be the most transparent in history, but journalists who cover the White House would beg to differ. The lack of access to the president has been a longstanding complaint of White House reporters, and the most recent outcry concerned a lack of access to Senate and House Majority PAC events that the president headlined. As democratized media decreases reliance on journalistic news outlets, however, the trend is unlikely to reverse itself soon. (Washington Post)
  • Sens. Tom Coburn and Claire McCaskill are co-sponsoring a bill that would eliminate the National Technical Information Service, a division of the Department of Commerce. Pointedly named the "Let Me Google That For You Act," the bill's co-sponsors contended in a hearing on Wednesday that the IT services provided by NTIS are duplicative. (NextGov)
  • The number of investigations at the Office of Congressional Ethics has dropped precipitously in the past two years. While some attribute the decline to greater selectivity in complaints pursued, few seem to believe that the decrease is a result of members of Congress behaving more ethically. (Washington Post)

International News

  • A recent European Court of Justice ruling makes it more difficult for the Council of the European Union to deny access to information about international trade and law. The case in question involves access to information on E.U.-U.S. financial transaction data-sharing agreements written in 2007, but offers the possibility of shedding more light on ongoing negotiations, such as those for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which resumed this week. (Access Info)
  • In an effort to make more government data open and accessible, Ireland recently established an open data portal modeled after those in the US and UK, but substantial problems remain in getting agencies and other state actors to release structured and machine-readable data. Minister Brendan Howlin warned that the data portal, still in its early stages, risked becoming simply a data dump without better data quality controls. (Irish Times)
  • New South Wales Minister for Finance and Services, Dominic Perrottet, announced the launch of an improved open data dashboard for the provincial government. The Minister noted a rapid rise in demand for government data over the past year, which saw a two-fold increase in API calls and millions of requests from various stakeholders. (ZDNet)

State and Local News

  • New York Governor Andrew Cuomo established the Moreland Commission last year to investigate ethics violations in Albany. Less than nine months into the commission's proposed eighteen-month run, Cuomo disbanded the commission in March, but an investigation from the New York Times reveals that Cuomo's office may have intervened frequently in the commission's work to protect those close to the governor. (New York Times)
  • John O'Brien, former state probation commissioner for Massachusetts, was convicted yesterday in US District Court in a sweeping corruption case. O'Brien, along with two of his employees, was found guilty of handing out patronage jobs to candidates sponsored by state legislators. (Boston Globe)

Events Today

Events Next Week

Do you want to track transparency news? You can follow the progress of relevant bills, court cases, and regulations using Scout. You can also get Today in #OpenGov sent directly to your preferred news reader. If you would like suggest an event, please email mrumsey@sunlightfoundation.com by 7 am on the Monday prior to the event. 

Jul 25, 2014

Photo of marshy area in foreground, ocean in backgroun
View of wetlands at Cape May, N.J. (Photo credit: By Anthony Bley, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers via Wikimedia Commons)

A controversial proposal by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to expand the definition of wetlands under federal protection has already drawn more than 200,000 comments. Among the commenters: hundreds of members of Congress, most of them Republican, criticizing the initiative, according to analysis by Docket Wrench.

At issue is a proposal to resolve the definition of regulated wetlands following a pair of Supreme Court decisions, in 2001 and 2006, that left the situation murky. It would revise regulations that have been in place for more than a quarter of a century.

This May letter signed by signed by 231 House members, including five committee chairman, decries the proposal, "Although your agencies have maintained that the rule is narrow and clarifies [Clean Water Act] jurisdiction, it in fact aggressively expands federal authority under the [Clean Water Act] while bypassing Congress and creating unnecessary ambiguity. Moreover, the rule is based on incomplete scientific and economic analyses." Nineteen of the signers are Democrats.

Another letter from Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., chairman of the Senate Republican Steering Committee, along with 14 fellow conservative senators, says "we believe that this proposal will negatively impact economic growth by adding an additional layer of red tape to countless activities that are already sufficiently regulated by state and local governments."

Arizona Republican Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake weigh in with a missive charging that the proposal does not take into account water conditions in arid states and urges the agencies "to abandon the current proposed rule."

Other lawmakers writing individually include Reps. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, David Loebsack, D-Iowa; and Doug Collins, R-Ga.

The EPA has logged nearly 205,000 comments on the proposal to date and recently extended the July deadline to October. However, the agency has posted the text of just 4,500 of those letters. This is because the agency has concentrated on posting unique comments as opposed to form letters, according to agency spokeswoman Julia Ortiz. This makes it difficult to determine whether the majority of letters are positive or negative.

However, among the letters posted, many appear inspired by the American Farm Bureau, a fierce opponent of proposal. The Farm Bureau is a powerful political force; in the 2012 election cycle, the group reported spending $12.6 million on federal lobbying and $2.6 million on campaign contributions. A long list of developers, agricultural interests, petroleum, mining, and indutry groups are opposed to the rule, including the Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Homebuilders, and the National Association of Realtors.

Environmental groups strongly favor the expanded definition of wetlands. A cluster of letters comes from this alert by the group Earth Justice, with advocates writing, "I urge EPA to ensure that this proposed rulemaking accurately captures the important functions of streams, wetlands, and other important waterways, and finalize this important rulemaking quickly."

This month, in both the House and Senate, lawmakers introduced legislation that would if approved stall the EPA's efforts to expand the definition of wetlands. In the Senate, S. 2496 is sponsored by Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., and has gathered 37 cosponsors. In the House, H.R. 5078 has 60 cosponsors.

Jul 24, 2014

Washington Governor Jay Inslee signs EO 14-04, an executive order to reduce carbon pollution in the state.
Image credit: Flickr/Jay Inslee

What do weather disasters, new educational mandates and drilling for gas on state land have in common?

All of them can be regulated through the power of the governor’s executive order.

The power of the executive order is a hot topic at the U.S. federal level. In his 2014 State of the Union Address, President Obama touted the executive order as a means to achieve his policy objectives despite a perpetually intransigent Congress. The planned lawsuit by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, against the president partially concerns the use of presidential executive orders to delay the implementation of Obamacare provisions.

Similar to presidents, governors can also wield substantial unilateral power through their executive orders. In cases of inclement weather, state governors often use the executive order to declare states of emergency, authorizing the mobilization of the state resources to address the crisis. In response to the rollout of Common Core education standards last year by the Obama administration, several state governors issued executive orders to block the “intrusion of federal standards” into education, long a bastion of state control. In Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Corbett, R, recently lifted a moratorium on natural gas exploration beneath the state’s parks and forests.

Governors and executive branches at the state level perform a variety of functions, including the management of state-level departments and agencies, execution of enacted state laws and administration of federal programs. Executive or administrative orders are the legal instruments by which governors conduct their duties, but the extent of the powers covered by executive order varies widely from state to state. Declarations of public emergencies, appointment of state officials and creation of executive branch commissions and agencies are often done by executive order.

Like acts and statutes enacted by state legislatures, governors' executive orders carry the weight and enforcement power of law. Unlike state bills, however, executive orders in 38 states are not subject to any form of administrative procedure act, a law that governs the process by which regulations are proposed and enacted. Only six states subject executive orders to legislative review, and a further six have legislative review requirements for a subset of executive orders, usually those concerning agency creation. Nevertheless, executive orders in many states are issued without specified end dates, and may persist for decades after their issuing governor has left office.

All of this is to suggest that although executive orders in many states are quite powerful, and while they’re generally issued more infrequently than bills are passed, they’re rarely subject to the same filing and publication requirements as other governing documents — proposed legislation, for example. Since executive orders are a matter of public record, all states must make them accessible to the public in some form — but, as we know, accessibility per the letter of the law and substantive openness are rarely one and the same.

Opening the Executive Order

Sunlight’s Open States project currently collects state-level legislative data from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, and tracks both legislation and the voting behavior of individual legislators. Executive orders, however, are no less important or powerful than their legislative counterparts. It’s therefore very important important that all citizens have access to their governor’s executive orders, so we wanted to discover what states were doing to make executive orders available to the public.

In our preliminary evaluation, we’ve drawn upon Sunlight’s Open Data Guidelines and attempted to answer many of the same questions that Open States asked in its evaluation of legislative transparency, with a few minor changes. In particular, since the volume of legislation proposed is usually much greater than that of executive orders issued, our priorities have been making these documents available to the public in ways that are convenient, timely and easy to read.

Here’s what we considered in our preliminary evaluation of the data:

  • Are executive orders available online?
  • Are orders uploaded in a timely fashion?
  • Is the data presented in a commonly owned format (e.g. HTML or PDF)?
  • Is the text machine-processable---can you search and find text, or are they unsearchable scans?
  • For what period of time are executive orders available? For the current year? Current term? Previous governor’s term? Since the beginning of time?

Here’s what we’ve found:

The Good

The vast majority of governors’ offices have taken it upon themselves to make this information available to the public in an organized manner. Forty-nine of 50 state governors post executive orders from their administration online on the website of either the governor, the Secretary of State or the state library (keep an eye out for another post soon about the only state that doesn’t). Executive orders from previous administrations are available in 43 states from either the governor’s office itself or, more commonly, from the state archive. While most states meet the basic expectation that the documents be posted online, however, there’s still a long way to go before these documents are truly open.

The Bad

While most state governors’ offices that we called claimed to post documents in less than a week, we found several states with unpublished executive orders dating back anywhere from a month (Utah) to eight months (Maine). Although many states will issue press releases for particularly urgent or newsworthy executive actions, the publicizing of all actions authorized by executive orders in a timely fashion — from appointments to the implementation of federal law — is important for allowing citizens to hold their lawmakers accountable in more-or-less real time.

Although executive orders are generally covered by public records laws, only three of the governor’s offices (Colorado, Idaho and Kentucky) that we contacted were aware of state statutes that govern how soon their orders need to be published online — if they need to be published online at all. While it’s great that many governors’ offices are thinking about proactively publishing these documents online, codifying online publication into public records law ensures that the choice of making these records accessible is not left to the discretion of the state executive branch.

The Ugly

Equally detrimental to accessibility are the data formats in which many of the documents were posted. Executive orders are available in most states as HTML-formatted text or PDFs. If you’re a human being trying to read these documents, chances are you won’t care much about the format of the document — not so if you’re a machine. Scans of physical documents that are perfectly legible to human readers are much less so to search engines. While this seems like a relatively minor technicality, the end result is that the text of these documents isn’t indexable by search engine — a problem in 17 of the states that we surveyed.

The good news is that there are several fairly easy-to-implement solutions to this problem. These include posting the text of documents to the site directly, using embedded text functions available in most PDFs or even using some form of optical character recognition software to generate machine-encoded and computer-readable text. This is why enacting minimal machine-processability standards is important: Without the ability to index the actual text of these documents, citizens will need to know exactly where to look before they start looking.

Wondering how your state stacks up? We’ve posted the data we’ve collected below — let us know about what your state’s doing well (or not so well) with its executive orders.

Rubrics

  1. Machine readability
    • 1 - Data is available as HTML, CSV, TXT.
    • 0 - Data is available as PDF with optical character recognition.
    • -1 - Data is some mixture of useable formats (above) and scanned PDFs
    • -2 - Data is only available as scanned PDFs
  2. Commonly-owned standards
    • 0 - Data is available in non-proprietary or open formats.
    • -1 - Data is only available in proprietary formats (e.g. DOC, XLS).
  3. Permanence
    • 1 - Data is available for/archives store data for at least a decade.
    • 0 - Data is available for the current and preceding administrations.
    • -1 - Data is only available for the current administration, if at all.
  4. Timeliness
    • 1 - Documents are posted within 48 hours of being issued.
    • 0 - Documents are posted within a week of being issued.
    • -1 - Documents are posted within a month of being issued.
    • -2 - Document postings are backlogged by a month or more.

Jul 24, 2014

Gun Owners of America got this pro-Jody Hice ad made in the final days before the primary run-off.
Gun Owners of America made a pro-Jody Hice ad in the final days before the GOP primary run-off. Hice won the election, and will face off against Democrat Ken Dious in November for Georgia's 10th District House seat.

A pair of pro-gun groups spent more than $9,000 in two and a half weeks on the winning candidate in a GOP House primary in Georgia. The down-to-the-wire money dump marks just one of the anti-establishment success stories from Tuesday’s full slate of primary run-off elections in Georgia.

Gun Owners of America Inc. and National Association for Gun Rights Inc. PAC threw down $4,500 and $4,647, respectively, in support of Jody Hice, a radio talk show host and former Baptist minister turned congressional candidate. Hice beat out Mike Collins in the 10th District House race, and is likely headed to Capitol Hill since the seat is reliably Republican. Sunlight’s Real-Time Federal Campaign Finance tracker tool shows that almost $2 million already has been spent on the race.

Three days before the run-off, Gun Owners of America paid a Colorado-based company to produce a 30-second television ad supporting Hice, who also got endorsements from conservative groups like the Tea Party Leadership Fund PAC and the Family Research Council Action PAC. In early July, National Association for Gun Rights – which bought radio time in June opposing Sen. Thad Cochran in Mississippi’s hotly contested Republican primary runoff – paid for a pro-Hice mailing.

Real-Time data show that Hice raised $64,300 in the last few weeks of the race, including a $5,000 contribution from conservative group the Madison Project and $3,500 from the Gun Owners of America Political Victory Fund. That investment to turn out a traditionally motivated constituency could have been a difference-maker in a race where fewer than 50,000 people voted.

For his part, Collins raised $63,275 during the race’s final sprint. On the Friday and Saturday before the election, he brought in $17,800, which included $5,000 from the National Automotive Dealers Association PAC and $2,500 from the International Paper PAC.

In Georgia’s 11th District race, former state Sen. Barry Loudermilk, endorsed by Tea Party groups and a handful of other conservative organizations, benefited greatly from outside support in his defeat of former U.S. Rep. Bob Barr. And with no Democrats on the ballot, Loudermilk can pack his bags for D.C.

Real-Time data show that since February, FreedomWorks, Club for Growth, Madison Project and the Senate Conservatives Fund combined to spend $42,604 supporting Loudermilk. FreedomWorks, a libertarian activist group, doled out the most – almost $24,000 throughout the primary. And, from July 15 to July 18, the organization spent more than half of that – $12,961 – on online ads and yard signs for its preferred candidate.

In terms of candidate fundraising, Real-Time indicates that since July 5, Loudermilk raised $48,776, compared to Barr’s $32,450. In addition to two $5,000-apiece contributions from the American Association of Anesthesiologists PAC and the UPS PAC, Loudermilk also got $1,776 from Shaun McCutcheonof McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission fame – on July 5.

The most talked-about upset of the Georgia runoffs, businessman David Perdue's upset victory over Rep. Jack Kingston for the GOP nomination in Georgia’s headline-grabbing Senate race, was a major defeat for a quintessential establishment group: The Chamber of Commerce spent more than $1.5 million on pro-Kingston ads in May and June. And Sunlight's Ad Hawk tool shows that the Chamber continued to back Kingston with ad buys into July. Real-Time shows that almost $26 million has been spent already, including about $4.6 million by outside groups.

About $1.6 million of the outside spending total went toward opposing Kingston. Conservative super PAC Citizens for a Working America spent heavily on anti-Kingston TV ads and direct mail campaigns, according to Real-Time.

Now attention turns toward the Nov. 4 election. After her easy primary victory, Democratic candidate Michelle Nunn has been stockpiling cash. Real-Time shows that she has brought in $6.6 million and has almost $3.7 million cash on hand. Although Perdue has raised more – about $7.6 million – he already spent the lion’s share during his primary. He has $783,540 cash on hand as he moves into the general election against Nunn.

But outside groups have already weighed in against Nunn, even before her Republican opponent was decided. Since April 1, Ending Spending Action Fund has spent $914,088 on “media production” and “research” opposing Nunn. In April, the conservative super PAC released a 30-second spot connecting Nunn to President Obama and his health care law.

Jul 24, 2014

magnifying glass over money

Sunlight and the Asian American Journalists Association on Aug. 13 will offer one of the last chances to get hands-on, in-person training on a whole host of new and improved money-in-politics tracking tools before the labor day kickoff of the 2014 midterm elections. The four hour session will run 10 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. (all times EST) and will be held in meeting room 14 at the Renaissance Hotel at 999 Ninth St. NW, here in Washington, D.C.

Join Sunlight staff, including Lindsay Young, Peter Olsen-Phillips, Palmer Gibbs, Jacob Fenton, and Bill Allison as we guide you through a series of tools that will help you find the latest information on campaigns, parties, super PACs and outside spenders of every description. Follow the fundraising by members of Congress, dig into the agendas of deep pocketed donors and track the television ads bought by political players. We'll also show you how you can use these tools well beyond the election to get the inside view of what businesses want in Washington.

Register for the event here.

There’s more money to follow in elections than ever before. Super PACs, political nonprofits and now, in the wake of the McCutcheon vs. Federal Election Commission decision by the Supreme Court, joint fundraising committees that can take in million dollar checks from well-heeled donors. And campaigns and parties are raising huge sums of money themselves to keep up. Learn about the tools that can help you keep pace with it all.