When Meg Whitman ran for governor of California in 2010, she donated $144 million of her own money to her campaign. Whitman, the Republican nominee, ultimately lost to Democrat Jerry Brown, but her spending ensured that the race was the most expensive non-presidential campaign in American history.
It was obvious Whitman was spending a fortune on the race, but it wasn’t easy to access California’s campaign finance and lobbying activity database, CAL-ACCESS, in order to do a more thorough analysis on her spending, or the finances of any other California campaign through the years.
The database had a basic search function, but if you wanted to access the raw data, you’d need to send $5 to the state’s Secretary of State office and wait to receive a CD with the data on it back in the mail.
In August 2013, after a long drawn-out fight with California journalists and civic data and open government activists, the Secretary of State to put all the raw data online in a format that’s downloadable. But even then, with 76 different tables and roughly 35 million records, the data was still unwieldy and difficult to use.
So last month reporters and developers from the Los Angeles Times, the Center for Investigative Reporting, and Stanford’s nascent Computational Journalism Lab formed the California Civic Data Coalition and published open source tools to make parsing and analyzing the data easier.