Field Guide FAQ
KUOW's Field Guide to Influence: Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What is this and what am I supposed to do? And why am I doing it?
A: Welcome! We're so glad you're here. The Field Guide To Influence lets you look up current campaigns near you (or any neighborhood in Washington state) and see where candidates are getting their money -- because we think you might like to know who is supporting your candidate. Type in a zipcode, address or landmark on the homepage at influence.kuow.org, and you'll see all the relevant races. Click "Explore This Race" to find out more about individual donors behind that campaign. And email us to let us know if you find anything strange, or interesting, or weird, or cool, or broken. Thanks!
Q: How often is the site updated?
A: We update it automatically every night, starting around midnight. We publish timestamps on the front page next to each race, which reflect when the site was last updated.
Q: Where does the data come from?
A: We start with data about what's on your ballot from the office of the Washington Secretary of State. It collects that data in order to produce the ballots and the Voters' Guide that get mailed to every Washington voter. In some cases, the Secretary of State hasn't yet gotten information about a race, and that's why we don't have it.
From there, we look through the data provided by the Washington Public Disclosure Commission and the Federal Election Commission to identify the committees associated with each choice on your ballot. Once we know which committees are associated with which ballot choices, we can periodically download the latest finance data from those governmental agencies.
Q: Why are your numbers different from the PDC/FEC/my calculations?
A: It probably has to do with refunds. It's not always easy to tell whether a given contribution was refunded or not. We do our best to identify those, but some slip through. If you find one that we missed, let us know.
Q: What are “Ind Exps”?
A: That stands for Independent Expenditure, which is far too long to put in the labels for our charts. Independent Expenditures in Washington state represent spending in support of, or in opposition to, particular candidates by people other than those candidates and their committees.
Q: What's in-kind fundraising?
A: The PDC has a good explainer on in-kind contributions. Briefly, in-kind contributions are donations of things other than money to a campaign. They can include dropping off coffee and donuts for volunteers at a phone bank, or time spent working for free on legal advice to a campaign.
Q: Aren't there contribution limits? Why do some people seem to give more than the limit to a campaign?
A: This gets complicated, but basically it's almost always about refunds (if you think there's some other explanation for a given instance, let us know!) Sometimes a donor's contribution may get refunded, and we don't catch that, so they look like they've given more than they have.
Q: Why do the numbers on the front page seem different from the numbers on individual race pages?
A: I thought you were done asking complicated questions! This is primarily caused by itemization. If your eyes didn't just glaze over, let's go further.
Many contributions to a campaign don't need to be disclosed if they're very small. In Washington state, if a contributor donates less than $25, the campaign doesn't need to report anything about that donor. They can just group all the small contributions together in one big “unitemized” bucket - and those contributions can add up. In Federal elections, contributions under $200 don't have to be individually disclosed.
The charts on the front page of influence.kuow.org reflect the totals disclosed by the campaigns, including all the unitemized contributions added together, but the charts and tables and “race facts” on the race pages rely on the itemized data. As a result, they're often different from the totals reported.
In the case of I-735 (campaign finance initiative) and some other situations (usually initiatives), more than one committee registered in support of one side, and so we're combining their reports. As a result, our numbers won't match what appears on the PDC's site for any specific committee.
Q: Why do Federal races show no data?
A: Well, that shouldn't happen. But if it does, the reason is probably because the FEC got mad at us for asking them too often for data. We issue several thousand requests every night, and if we do it too quickly, their servers get mad at us and stop talking to us for a while. Like I said, that shouldn't happen, but in case it does, that's the explanation - and we're working on a long-term fix.
Q: Where's Seattle's I-124 ballot measure? What about other missing races?
A: Since we get our ballot data from the Secretary of State, we rely on them to tell us what's on your ballot. They, in turn, rely on individual counties to let them know what races are on their voters' ballots. We'll be updating the site as we get new data from the Secretary of State, so if you don't see a particular race on our site, let us know and check back soon!
Q: Why is information missing from some races?
A: Usually it's because no information has been provided. Sometimes candidates don't have campaign committees. Sometimes those committees haven't raised any money or at least haven't reported raising any in a way that we can track (very small committees have alternate means of reporting). And sometimes, they have done those things but we don't know about it. For instance, we may not know that People for Smarter Education Funding is opposing a schools levy in a particular city, but we'd love to find out, so let us know!
Q: Is it really true that the top donors to both Presidential candidates gave less than $10,000? And they're both based in Washington? That seems weird.
A: For the Presidential race, we're only showing individual donations from, and expenses paid in, Washington state. But that's only part of the answer.
Individual contributions to state and federal campaigns have hard limits. People and organizations with money have various ways to get around campaign finance limits, most notably by making "independent expenditures" of various kinds that are essentially unlimited. The Field Guide includes information on independent expenditures for state and local races, and we plan to add federal independent expenditures soon.
Q: What's the “WA Organizations of Vacational Educators”? I don't think that group exists.
A: It's probably a typo that was created in a source document. Ultimately, everything on this site relies on campaigns disclosing their donors and expenses to government agencies. Our data reflects what the PDC and FEC know about, so if the campaign lets their regulator know about a change, we'll eventually get it too.
Q: I think something is wrong. No wait, I found a bug. No, scratch that, I have a question about how this works - what should I do?
Q: Ok great, but who are you?
A: We're a team of folks at KUOW. The developer is Abraham Epton; the designer is Kara McDermott; the investigative reporter is John Ryan; and the head honcho is Cathy Duchamp.