On Tuesday, the Federal Election Commission for the first time released detailed records for all congressional candidates' campaign spending. These records tell us who the candidates hire for advertising, consulting and just about everything else. It's a feast for political junkies, more interesting for some than lists of campaign donations that are the focus of so much reporting. Everybody knows, after all, that candidates must raise huge sums of money to win and keep office. What they actually do with the money can often be more telling.
Searches for "flowers," "Texas Rangers," "tickets" and even "tuxedo" turn up interesting results. A search for "BAR B Q" shows that U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler, has an apparent affinity for it.
Members of Congress also spent the money helping the colleagues' campaigns, as we reported today.
Such "disbursements" data, which also include in-kind contributions, were available before, but only in individual quarterly files by single candidate — a nightmare to analyze. As of this week, the commission permanently hosts and updates raw files on every candidate in the country (for now, just the 2009-10 election cycle), allowing for far faster and deeper searches and sorts.
From the commission's disclosure blog:
You can choose to download the data in either XML or CSV format, and there is an XML schema that describes the file. You can get data for a specific House district or a Senate race, or choose all of the candidates in a particular state. You can also try to grab everything for all House or Senate candidates, but that will take a while now and only get worse as the cycle goes along, so think about what you're really trying to accomplish before you hit the download button. ...
This represents a big step for us, long overdue, so let us know what you think and share any ideas you have for making it better. We continue to work on a process for flexible searches of these data and we'll let you know as we get closer to completing that project.
Here are the Tribune, we took the roughly 23,000 individual campaign transaction reported by members of the U.S. House from Texas (there's no active U.S. Senate race this cycle) and created our own new database application. It allows users to search disbursements by candidate, status (incumbent or challenger) and a candidate's political committee name.
Here's a sample search. Let say you wanted to view campaign spending by U.S. Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Dallas. You can do that by typing all or a portion of his name (or his political committee's name):
There's also the option to filter Hensarling's results by the entity hired by the campaign or its city and state. These fields, along with the dollar amount and description, can also serve as the primary search parameters, if needed. (Say you wanted to know who in the delegation spends more than $50,000 on "consulting" from a Washington, D.C. firm):
Here are the Hensarling results in descending order by amount. Like many members of Congress, he choose to send money back to his party's campaign committee to help other candidates around the country. He also spent more than $30,000 on a D.C.-based fundraising firm called Hooks Solutions, a company that's popular with several other Texas Republicans.
Clicking on Hensarling's name takes you to a page with more information about that transaction, but also about the candidate and his overall spending and fundraising totals during the cycle:
As with all government and political records, the data aren't perfect. Some fields are missing, ZIP codes are formatted differently, and the commission doesn't standardize the spelling and style of various spending recipients — and even candidates' names. Still, we hope the app gives you more information about Texas politics and candidates' campaigns. Let us know if you have ideas, tips or suggestions.
Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.