The Public Disclosure Commission will launch the final piece in a new suite of tools for exploring and analyzing data on money in state and local politics Thursday.
The release of the latest addition – a replacement for the current Search the Database and View Reports features – marks the culmination of a year-long project that overhauled how the PDC delivers information about campaigns and lobbyists to the public.
The project represents the biggest improvement to the agency’s data access systems since 2008.
“The PDC’s mission has always been to help Washingtonians make informed decisions about the influence of money in the political process,” said Commissioner David Ammons, who covered the PDC’s early days during his 37 years in The Associated Press Capitol bureau.
“Fulfilling that mission depends on not only robust disclosure, but also easy and meaningful access to the information. These upgrades are a huge step in that direction.”
PDC staff will demonstrate the new features for the commission and public at a special commission meeting Thursday 2:30 p.m. at the PDC office at 711 Capitol Way South, Suite 206 in Olympia.
The new database search will provide one-stop searching for most inquiries about candidates, political committees, independent expenditures, lawmaker surplus accounts, and state lobbying activity.
The improved interface will be more intuitive, functional and accessible to the average voter. Gone are the “funnel” filters that sometimes stymied users of the old system, and users will no longer lose their place if they hit the “back” button.
The new functionality also will be integrated with other recent additions to the PDC’s website, including Campaign Explorer’s accordion-style menu of races and the Campaigns in Your Voting District filter that allows PDC homepage visitors to focus their searches on the races appearing on their own ballots.
All three are part of the agency’s Next Generation Data Access Project, which celebrated its first milestone in March when the PDC made 5+ million records available on a new Open Data Catalog.
The PDC chose to release parts of the Next Generation project as they were available rather than wait for one big reveal.
“Our approach is an iterative one in which we aim to deliver value early and often,” Chief Information Officer James Gutholm said. “We knew that we couldn’t get the entire project done until late in the 2017 election cycle, so it was important to make as much functionality available to public as soon as possible.”
An active group of stakeholders that met every two weeks drove the project’s development, and many of the features now available to PDC website visitors were first suggested by the group.
Its members include Cheryl Aichele, Parkside Neighborhood Association; Clyde E. Cramer of Arlington; Conner Edwards of Olympia; Abraham Epton, Socrata; Lea Galanter, League of Women Voters; Bridget McLeman of Vancouver; Chad Magendanz, Voter Science LLC ; Toby Nixon, Washington Coalition for Open Government; Toyoko Tsukuda, The League of Women Voters of Benton and Franklin Counties, and Andrew Villeneuve, Northwest Progressive Institute.
“We are fortunate to have customers who really care about the information we provide and can help us envision innovative ways to make it more accessible to the public,” Gutholm said.
PDC staff who participated in the project include Bruce Wendler, Bill King, Kyle Veldhuizen, Jim Coleman, Toni Lince, Jennifer Hansen and Kurt Young.
The Next Generation Data Access project is part of the PDC’s overall push to use new technologies to provide more real-time disclosure and improved access to data. That work is made possible partly by a $150,000 annual appropriation that the Legislature first funded in the 2015-17 budget.