A New Tool for Finding Campaign Finance Scoops

"There are thousands of potential front page of reddit stories hidden in 25 years of campaign finance data," and Solomon Kahn wants to help unearth them.

Solomon Kahn at a Civic Hall brown bag lunch. (Civic Hall)

Solomon Kahn at a Civic Hall brown bag lunch. (Civic Hall)

In the hours he’s not working at Paperless Post or spending time with his wife and baby, Solomon Kahn is a crusader for campaign finance transparency. Earlier today, Kahn stopped by Civic Hall for a brown bag lunch to share the a visualization tool he built using OpenSecrets data that lets users dive into politicians’ campaign finance records, all the way down to individual-level donors, if necessary. Kahn is currently raising money on Kickstarter to help pay for hosting and to support outreach and training for journalists who can best make use of the tool.

Using his own local congressperson, Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY), as an example, Kahn demonstrated how the visualization made it easy to see that Crowley went from getting 27 percent of his campaign funds from labor groups and 14 percent from finance/insurance/real estate in 2000, to getting 6 percent of funds from labor and 38 percent from finance/insurance/real estate in 2014. Digging a bit deeper, Kahn found that one of Crowley’s largest contributors is the Blackstone Group, and that in 2007, 14 people affiliated with Blackstone, who had never contributed to Crowley before, all gave $2,300 on the exact same day.

Kahn says that users will be able to submit “scoops” like this which, once vetted for accuracy, will be displayed at the top of a politician’s page so that journalists and other interested folks will see notable facts like the above right off the bat. (An audience member asks if he’s thought about annotation, to which Kahn replies: “That’s complicated,” and reiterates the limits of his time and money.)

Helping journalists make the most of the tool is one of Kahn’s priorities. “For a reporter in Sunnyside [Queens, New York] at the Tribune to get a story like this would just be impossible without this kind of tool,” Kahn tells those gathered at Civic Hall.

There are thousands of potential front page of reddit stories hidden in 25 years of campaign finance data,” Kahn writes to potential Kickstarter backers. He wants to make sure those stories see the light of day.

Speaking of reddit, Kahn says he’ll be promoting the tool in a reddit I Am A—, Ask Me Anything session soon, so keep your eyes peeled for that.

For more information, see Kahn’s Kickstarter video here:

  • Good piece – as a non-profit organization, I’d like to highlight that Solomon is generously offering the site for free, open-sourcing its web code, and working to advance open data. He’ll be adding space in his site interface to crowdsource questions & insights from the data, so Congress-watchers and political bloggers can get closer to raising & answering timely questions, such as – is this committee chair being lobbied by former staffers? Where does this rep stand in the landscape of lawmakers taking donations from the financial sector? And ongoing, as issues and hot bills churn in the news, free to remix for customized uses and other government entities.

    If this free public resource was instead being offered primarily as a subscription-service with closed-data, Solomon wouldn’t be as incentivized to support features for effective watchdogging and building public knowledge. That’s just some of the value of open-source community projects – in this case, there’s also lots of unique value in the interface & data matching – and it’s an overlooked public asset that I hope more civic tech funders will see as a very-positive return on non-profit investment.

  • Laura Parenteau

    Wow, this is fantastic. Will the general public also be able to access the data? I can’t believe he couldn’t raise the money needed, but I hope he will go low priced subscription if he has to.

  • Donny Shaw

    Hi Laura, I’m working with Solomon to promote his app. Yes, absolutely. The data will be available to citizens and journalists for free. We want as many people as possible to use the app and help crowdsource investigations about who funds our lawmakers.

    We are trying to raise a small amount of money on Kickstarter to get the project off the ground. If you can help spread the word we would be greatly appreciative!


  • Laura Parenteau

    I’ve tweeted a couple of times, shared on FB and donated what I could.

  • Donny Shaw

    Thank you so much!