Letter to SBOE with Recommendations on New Campaign Finance Portal



July 10, 2024

State Board of Elections
Public Campaign Finance Board

Re: Confirming consultative process and providing specific recommendations for MTX upgrade of campaign finance portal

Dear Public Campaign Finance Board,

Reinvent Albany writes to confirm our understanding that there will be a robust consultative process between stakeholder groups and the SBOE and its vendor, MTX Group, during which the public will have the opportunity to comment on proposed changes to the campaign finance portal before they are finalized. We note that the RFP for this project called for agile software development, a process centered on extensive back and forth between the developers and end users. We, the public, are end users of state campaign finance data, and we look forward to working with the SBOE and its consultants to ensure the best possible end product.

To help get the conversation started, we are sharing specific recommendations for the upgraded state campaign finance portal. Please share these recommendations with MTX and know we are eager to hear from them and SBOE.

We have attached the following:

  1. Reinvent Albany recommendations for the new campaign finance portal
  2. Highlights of campaign finance portals across the country
  3. Core issues to address in current portal (from previous letter)

Thank you so much for moving ahead on this. Please contact Tom Speaker, tom@reinventalbany.org, with any questions or comments.

Best regards,

John Kaehny, Executive Director
Tom Speaker, Legislative Director

1. Recommendations for new campaign finance portal

      Search function recommendations

      • Allow users to search portals by entering only a single line of text. Under the current reporting system, users must apply several filters before getting any results. It would be simpler to require users to only enter a single line of text, then filter from there. Washington State’s portal does this, which greatly simplifies the process of filtering data. We also like how this feature works on the Attorney General’s NY Open Government website, which enables very rapid searching of names and fragments of addresses, allowing us to quickly identify family members and campaign intermediaries (we do note that, unfortunately, many of the underlying datasets have not been linked or optimized).
      • Provide only one “search/filter” button rather than multiple buttons as under the current portal. Having only one button for both searches and filters ensures that users will immediately understand how to use the database. The Public Reporting System’s current layout of multiple buttons is too confusing for first-time users.
      • Greatly reduce the number of portals. The current number of portals/single user interfaces is overwhelming for new users to navigate.

      Data recommendations

      • Clean contribution and committee data
        • Ensure all committees associated with the same individuals are under the same name. Search results under the current data sometimes yield multiple candidate names for a single committee (see Example 1 below).
        • Thoroughly dedupe lists of contributors. Many contributors currently appear as separate entries because of slightly different spellings and abbreviations of names and addresses (see Example 2 below). 
        • Use autofill and a unique identifier to ensure each contributor is properly identified and appears under one name. The new filing system should have autofill and validation options appear when campaigns fill out donation forms.  
      • Data presentation
        • Show number and dollar amount of contributions and matchable contributions, like on the NYC Campaign Finance Board’s dashboard under “Candidate Level Statistics.”
        • Show all columns in search results. Do not ask users to “expand” to view more columns as in the current Public Reporting System.
        • Publish lists of top contributors and recipients, as on the New York Open Government portal.
        • Publish graphics that make the data easy to read and understand, such as:
          • Total number of public funds paid
          • Breakdown of in- and out-of-district contributions
          • Breakdown of how much comes from individuals vs. organizations vs. other sources
          • Charts of fundraising and spending year-to-year
        • Allow graphics to be filtered by district.
      • Data export
        • Allow search results to be shared by hyperlink. The old BOE portal had this function; we ask that it be restored.
        • Allow data to be downloaded in multiple formats (Image, CSV or Excel, PDF, Powerpoint, Tableau), as in the NYC Campaign Finance Board’s dashboard.
        • Consider adding new datasets to data.ny.gov beyond the seven currently provided, such as including geocoded data by district.


      Example 1

      Example 2

      2. Highlights of campaign finance portals across the country

        NYC CFB Campaign Finance Dashboard

        • Easy to understand graphs
        • Marks in- and out-of-district contributions
        • Shows where money comes from
        • Allows users to view by district or by candidate
        • Allows data to be downloaded in multiple formats (Image, CSV or Excel, PDF, Powerpoint, Tableau)

        NYC Campaign Finance Board Summary

        • Shows whether candidate is a participant
        • Shows amount of public and private funds
        • Shows estimated account balance
        • Includes data glossary

        California Secretary of State

        • Allows users to view all data for a candidate with just a few clicks
        • Portal is open source

        Washington State Political Disclosure Data

        • Shows most expensive races throughout the state
        • Shows top-spending committees
        • Allows users to search by filter, and narrow down from there

        New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission

        • Allows search by employer

        Federal Election Commission

        Follow the Money

        Open Secrets

        3. Core issues to address in current portal

          1. The search function. The search function presented on the front page of most data fields is too confusing. First-time users are not sure where to start, as there are six search buttons, and there are also multiple ways to enter in a name. We hope the vendor will simplify searching in a way similar to the New York Open Government website.
          2. Glitches. The website too often produces error messages, takes too long to load, or creates sudden, mysterious bugs that cannot be reproduced. We strongly recommend the vendor undertake a rigorous beta-testing process to ensure that the new platform is usable.
          3. Data architecture. Many of the problems created by the portal appear to be due to the underlying data, particularly when it comes to searching committee data. The vendor may be limited by this constraint, but we urge you to explore ways to make sure that the public-facing product is as easy to understand as possible.

          Click here to view the letter as a PDF.