Tracking the Trump data, plus Spotlight

Note from the Center

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The speed of the Trump juggernaut redefining U.S politics is making it hard for any news organization, perhaps especially an investigative one, to keep track of the landscape and the people on it.

Show me the data

Public Integrity has a traditional core expertise in campaign finance and turned that to good effect this week in my view to put facts around the anecdotal belief that GOP stalwarts and Donald Trump’s rivals were belatedly turning on him. The weekly data the political team analyzes on political TV ad spending showed big sums spent in the days before Super Tuesday and the tone shifting dramatically to a ‘Stop Trump’ message.

"Republican super PACs pile on Trump with ad barrage” was the latest piece by Cady Zuvich with data showing Republican Super-PACs backed 8,500 advertisements blasting Donald Trump. It’s a great case for our focus on money and high quality data giving us a way of dealing accurately with assumptions and anecdotes.

The Chris Zubak-Skees ad tracker shows how the advertising spending is being deployed by all sides now and is a really good visible way of seeing why CBS, CNN and other broadcasters are in a bonanza.

We expose, they act

It’s also not just about Donald Trump. Our political data analyst Michael Beckel called out some questionable use of limited liability companies to support the now-defunct bit of New Jersey governor Chris Christie. Now two government reform groups are calling for an inquiry.

Also on defunct bids, Carrie Levine looked at how Ben Carson is likely to use — some would argue abuse — the lists of thousands of ordinary people who have backed his now “suspended” big for the GOP nomination. "This database is a potential post-campaign money machine”, Carrie writes.

Jared Bennett, our indefatigable web editor, had a strong follow up to a controversial report he did leading on homeowners whose properties were effectively sold out from under them in big HUD mortgage deals with Wall Street. Forty-five members of Congress have now signed a letter urging HUD to reconsider the program.

Spotlight on investigative journalism

We were all thrilled at Public Integrity to see Spotlight win Best Picture in the Oscars on Sunday night. It has shone a light on the work of all investigative journalism operations and the struggle to keep them financed with its superb portrayal of the Boston Globe Spotlight team’s expose of the Boston Catholic priest pedophile scandal. The New York Times did a piece on what the success of the film means for us all in the business, including Public Integrity.

What we’re reading and thinking about

Our Chief Development (fundraising) Officer Deb Dubois says she’s reading predictions for charitable giving in 2016, specifically “The Philanthropy Outlook 2016 & 2017,” a report done by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, which predicts a 4.1% increase in giving in 2016 and an additional 4.3% increase in 2017.  Despite the competition for funds and the distraction this year’s election poses, the outlook is encouraging, especially because the most significant rise will be in our bread and butter area – foundations.

Our Executive Editor Gordon Witkin sent me a remarkable and very long investigation into the Gates Foundation’s influence over journalistic non-profits, particularly NPR. It comes across as a tad shrill to me but asks some strong questions about where that influence is declared and how. A good reminder you can never be too transparent. I encourage anyone raising money for non-profit journalism to read it and consider. [To be clear, we don’t currently receive support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, but we would expect to work with them like any other philanthropic supporter.]

I welcome feedback on this note.

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