Tracking the money in the election battleground

Note from the Center

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From January 21, 2016 note from Center for Public Integrity CEO Peter Bale.

Track the television battleground

TV is the big money battleground on which the political forces confront each other. Tracking how those ad dollars are spent and by whom gives a near-real-time picture of the campaign. It shows where big donors believe they can have the greatest impact. Public Integrity committed to tracking this by acquiring data from Kantar Media/CMAG. It’s been a rich vein of stories on who is buying ads where, which super-PACS are backing whom and which candidates are funding their own ads. 

Our award-winning data journalist Chris Zubak-Skees has turned the data into a dynamic map which should be a reference point for anyone throughout the campaign to make the scale and focus of spending clear. It is a remarkable example of how data can efficiently and effectively tell a hard-to-grasp story. It is very clear who is spending where and why, even in these early days before the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries. Over the year the map will fill out and become richer and richer. I encourage you to explore and bookmark Chris’ map. It’ll only get better. Here’s a "how to" guide.

Shining a light on dark money

Sitting beside the data work is the political team of Dave Levinthal, Michael Beckel and Carrie Levine.

Michael told the story of “dark money” well this week in a piece that was widely used by partners. It’s a simple piece explaining what on earth the Beltway crowd mean by dark money. Like an old primer on the Supreme Court Citizens United judgement by deputy executive editor John Dunbar, the dark money piece will run and run.

Another project from that team is Source Check and Cady Zuvich did a sharp job of pointing out some of the inconsistencies in what Bernie Sanders says about big money in politics, noting that Friends of the Earth is paying for pro-Bernie ads.

State Integrity has impact

At the state level, the one-year State Integrity Investigation led by Nick Kusnetz is still reverberating. New York governor Andrew Cuomo — whose state scored a D-minus in our investigation—called for big changes to ethics and campaign finance laws in the state. Last week AP reported that Vermont politicians – chagrined at their D-minus rating perhaps – considered new ethics legislation. In Washington State, attorney general Bob Ferguson proposed a bill to establish a one-year lobbying prohibition for former high-ranking state officials, citing State Integrity and the D-plus his state scored.

What we’re reading, thinking about

Jane Mayer, the New Yorker reporter who has done more than anyone to unveil the political influence of Charles and David Koch, has a new book out on them “Dark Money: the hidden history of the billionaires behind the rise of the radical right"

Her latest New Yorker piece  is on how the brothers are reframing themselves as campaigners on issues like prison reform. Mayer, in an event in DC before the launch, was kind enough to credit Public Integrity and Dave Levinthal in particular for his work the Koch Bros. influence in universities.

And in an appearance on NPR Mayer talked about the Center’s founder, Chuck Lewis: "I quote someone named Chuck Lewis, who was the head of the Center for Public Integrity, a nonpartisan group in Washington that's kind of a watchdog group. And he describes the Kochs as the Standard Oil of our time. And he says they have a record of lawbreaking and obfuscation like almost no other company. They have a long record of environmental legal cases where they held the record for the largest judgment against a company for pollution at one point. They also had the largest judgment against them at the time for a disastrous work-safety situation in which a pipeline blew up and killed two teenagers who lived near it. And there were - just one case after another after another.” Here’s her interview.

As always, I welcome your feedback on this note.

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