New Oakland app offers quick look at campaign finances
on September 9, 2014
With open laptops and a few television monitors projecting icons of Oakland mayoral candidates, a team of self-proclaimed “volunteer civic hackers” last week introduced to the city ethics commission a new app designed to make campaign-finance numbers more accessible to voters.
The team, a group of coders, developers and web designers who call themselves Open Disclosure (OD), showed members of the Oakland Public Ethics Commission how their new software makes public campaign data easier to obtain and understand.
By comparing candidates, users can sort through numbers, graphs and charts to find out who’s donated to whose campaign, which sectors of the community have donated, and how much. For example, according to OD’s website, nearly 12% of campaign funds raised by incumbent Oakland Mayor Jean Quan’s campaign have come from her own funding, while councilmember Libby Schaaf’s self-funding has amounted to 0.3%. In other words, Quan has spent $30,000 on her own campaign, while Schaaf has spent roughly $1,000 on hers. Additionally, according to the site, Schaaf’s campaign has outraised Mayor Quan’s by nearly $100,000.
OD began its work in August of 2013 as a project of OpenOakland, an organization committed to increasing the accessibility of public information.
“It’s something anyone with a computer or a mobile phone can access and use,” said OpenOakland’s executive director, Steve Spiker. “I think it’s the first time that your average voter in Oakland will start to understand the behind-the-scenes machinery of how people run for office and campaign in Oakland.”
As the app grows in size and circulation, Spiker said, he hopes the public’s feedback will help shape it. “We built this open-source tool with a very local community [in mind],” Spiker said. There are people who are actually interested in making this the most effective, the most legitimate, the most understandable tool out there.”
His words weren’t lost on data scientist Vivek Bansal, who travelled from San Jose to support the group’s launch. Over the last year, Bansal said, OD’s work has inspired him to help develop a similar project in San Jose.
“For every one project that gets finished, there’s probably three or four that die,” Bansal said. “It takes an insane amount of energy and the skills and the right talent coming together to build a project and keep it growing for an entire year.”
Spiker agreed by concluding how he was happy with the night’s outcome. “We were certainly hoping to see a positive reaction,” Spiker said, “and the varied reactions and the levels of interest from the commissioners was great.”
For more information on the app, visit opendisclosure.io.
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