FEC maps show you the campaign money

FEC Web site

With the 2008 presidential race already on the fast track, the Federal Election Commission has developed an online mapping application that will make it easier for the public to track where — literally — presidential candidates are getting their money.

The application, scheduled to debut June 12 on the FEC Web site, will enable users to view donations by geographic area. The interface will let users narrow down their geographical search to three digits of a ZIP code and will feature a database with the names of the companies contributors work for and the dates of their donations.

The objective is to let citizens see where the presidential candidates get their money, said Alec Palmer, FEC’s chief information officer.

The launch comes as individual donations are becoming an increasingly important part of presidential campaign fund raising, FEC officials said. Under the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, also known as the McCain-Feingold bill, the amount of money candidates can receive from an individual donor per election cycle jumped from $1,000 to $2,000, with corrections for inflation. In 2008, donors are limited to $2,300 for the primaries and $2,300 more for the general election. Major party nominees are barred from using individual contributions if they accept the Treasury's grants for the general election campaign — this year valued at about $84 million per candidate.

However, with intense campaigning already under way in both parties, and with the increase in allowances for individual donations and the fund-raising capabilities of the Internet, many predict that nominees may forgo the Treasury cash for the first time in the fund's 30-year history. If that happens, some analysts predict that the winning candidate will need to raise a record $500 million to win in 2008.

“Because contribution limits are higher and because the nominees may be known to themselves and everyone else by February of next year, there is a lot more time to raise money,” said Bob Biersack, an FEC spokesman and former statistician with the agency. “It becomes conceivable, at least, that you could raise significantly more than” $84 million.

With that pressure comes intense scrutiny of fund-raising efforts. The new application is intended to make the fund-raising activities of candidates more transparent to the public.

Making information more manageable for the public is part of the commission’s mandate, and this program will give citizens access to it all with “three clicks of a mouse,” Palmer said.

“FEC.gov has never been one of the easiest sites to navigate, and whatever the commission can do to make the raw information more accessible to the public is something that we welcome,” said Massie Ritsch, communications director at the Center for Responsive Politics. The center runs Opensecrets.org, which also tracks campaign financing.

The data is still “raw and needs some context, and that’s the role that watchdogs and Web sites like Opensecrets.org play,” Ritsch added.

FEC is planning to release a similar application for the 2008 Senate and House races.

In anticipation of such record-breaking fund raising, FEC has already ordered new Web servers. The interface will go online June 12 with data from the first quarter filing period and will be updated after the second quarter. The agency only had to spend an additional $12,000 on the site to cover the mapping software because the Java-based project was done 99 percent in-house.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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