The Data Briefing: The Federal Election Commission Releases New Open Data Tools to Track Campaign Data

The Federal Election Commission (FEC) has recently released an application programming interface (API) and a beta website. The purpose of the OpenFEC API is to support full-text and field-specific searches on FEC data while the beta website provides campaign finance data and guidance for Federal elections. The code for both the API and website are on GitHub and freely available to the public.

The purposes of the OpenFEC API and website are to allow the exploration of how candidates and committees fund their campaigns. Starting first with the OpenFEC API, users have the ability to query the FEC data for information about candidates, campaign committees, filings, and campaign financials. After signing up for an API key, the developer can then make RESTful requests. A brief refresher: REST (representational state transfer) is one method for transferring data on the Internet.

The OpenFEC API’s schema is available in the Swagger format. Swagger is an open source framework that provides a standard way to document RESTful APIs so that the schema is easier for humans and machines to read. Swagger also helps in writing tests for APIs. Go ahead and examine the schema; its good practice in learning how API data models help developers build API-based applications.

Next, let’s examine the beta website. The new website is divided into three main areas. First, there is the “Campaign finance data” area where visitors can search the FEC elections filings much like they could through the OpenFEC API. There are some good graphing tools to understand how the campaigns are financed. You can perform the analysis on the site or download the data for analysis in your favorite statistical tool.

The next area is “Registration and reporting.” This area is for the campaigns and their committees. All of the reporting guidance and publications can be found in this area. The third and final area is “Legal resources.” In this area, campaign workers, journalists, and others can search through the FEC statutes, regulations, and advisory opinions. There is also a calendar for elections and reporting deadlines and a handy glossary that provides the legal definitions for all things related to election campaigns.

What is especially interesting is that the content management system for the website is built using Javascript and Python. You can view the code for the content management system in the GitHub repository. What is especially instructive are the User Story cards that went into creating the website at 18F’s StoriesOnBoard storymap. User stories are used in agile project management to help users communicate to developers the features and behaviors of a website. Take some time to examine the user stories to see how a modern website is created.

The OpenFEC API and the beta website is a great step forward in providing valuable election information to scholars and journalists. For developers, the API and website Github repositories ae good tutorials on building modern web applications. And the American public benefits the most from having open data about Federal elections. Looking forward to seeing the great mobile apps that will be built using the OpenFEC API.

Special bonus: if you are a developer, the FEC is hiring! Apply to be an Information Technology Specialist (Applications Software and Enterprise Architecture) before the January 24th closing date. The FEC is looking for developers skilled in Python and building web applications.

(StoriesOnBoard is used only for illustrative purposes and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Federal government or by any U.S. Federal government agency.)


Each week, The Data Briefing showcases the latest federal data news and trends. Visit this blog every week to learn how data is transforming government and improving government services for the American people. If you have ideas for a topic or have questions about government data, please contact me via email.

Dr. William Brantley is the Training Administrator for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s Global Intellectual Property Academy. You can find out more about his personal work in open data, analytics, and related topics at BillBrantley.com. All opinions are his own and do not reflect the opinions of the USPTO or GSA.