18F's OpenFEC API Simplifies Campaign Data Inspection

The Federal Election Commission (FEC) has launched its first API, the OpenFEC API. The API allows users to search for candidates and committees in a simpler and more interactive method than searching through mountains of form-collected information. The API marks the first product release by the FEC and 18F partnership. To learn more, ProgrammableWeb caught up with 18F's Lindsay Young.

First, Young gave us the high-level overview of OpenFEC:

The Federal Election Commission empowers citizens with the information they need to make informed decisions about their democracy. The FEC has been leading the charge in bulk data, and now, the API offers that data in a format that is easier to use and enables custom queries. Additionally, the data is organized around concepts like candidates, which are more welcoming than navigating buckets of information based on forms.

As far as the driving factor that led the FEC to release the API, Young commented:

Releasing the API is the first part of the FEC-18F project to improve the experience of people using FEC data. The API is easier to use than bulk data, it has interactive documentation and we tried to make the naming conventions more welcoming to those uninitiated to campaign finance. In the current bulk downloads, you have names like ind_uni_con; in the API users deal with individual_unitemized_contributions. It might sound simple, but using real words makes it easier to acquaint yourself with data.

The Twittersphere has reacted positively. Numerous tweets recall past experiences with bulk data that caused great pain. In the same Feed, users seem nothing but positive about the potential of the API.

With the API release, the FEC and 18F target journalists, academics, developers and other transparency-seekers. While bulk data remains available, the API enables developers to build apps and services that were previously unheard of. New research methods, Web apps and more all become possible because of the data's ease of use through the API.

The API remains in beta for now. The FEC and 18F recommend filing issues about bugs and suggestions. As the name indicates, the project is open source. Accordingly, users can view the code and make pull requests. The initial endpoints include candidates, committees, financial and search. Users can utilize the history Endpoint to uncover financial data over time. The partnership has already announced its intention to expand the number of endpoints to include filings and schedules.

To conclude, Young left us with the following bit of encouragement: "The API is just the first step in this process. We are working on a new FEC website, driven by the OpenFEC API. With both tools, even more people will be able to find and explore campaign finance data."

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