Socrata + Drupal: Washington State’s Public Disclosure Commission

December 7, 2017 10:36 am PST | Data Apps & Visualization

Washington State’s Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) helps report on the flow of money to candidates, campaigns, and lobbyists. And, it recently improved how quickly and accurately it makes data available to the public and the staff at Washington State.


Next Generation Data Access Project

The PDC was created by request of the public to “provide timely and meaningful public access to accurate information about the financing of political campaigns, lobbyist expenditures, and the financial affairs of public officials and candidates…” Its purpose has everything to do with data and accurate reporting. That’s why the PDC recently committed to its Next Generation Data Access Project.

With the Next Generation Data Access Project, the PDC has launched a new suite of tools for exploring and analyzing data on money in state and local politics. All of the data is hosted on Washington’s open data portal, managed by Socrata. The three-phase project replaced the original “Search the Database” and “View Reports” features and represents the biggest improvement to the agency’s data access systems since 2008.

“The PDC’s mission has always been to help Washingtonians make informed decisions about the influence of money in the political process,” said Commissioner David Ammons, who covered the PDC’s early days during his 37 years in The Associated Press Capitol bureau. “Fulfilling that mission depends on not only robust disclosure, but also easy and meaningful access to the information. These upgrades are a huge step in that direction.”



Benefits of New Technology

The PDC has a goal of using new technologies to provide more real-time disclosure and improved access to data. The project’s first milestone occurred in March when the PDC made 5+ million records available on a new Open Data Catalog.

The PDC leveraged the Socrata Open Data API (SODA) along with an open-source module developed in-house for the Drupal Content Management System. Their Drupal module allows them to leverage their open datasets to drive content on their website, dynamically creating an explorable, familiar web interface that is tailored to the needs of their users.

The improved interface of their Next Generation Data Catalog is more intuitive, functional, and accessible to the average voter. The first completed project the PDC worked on was its Campaign Explorer. This application includes an accordion-style menu of races that you can look up based on your address to see the campaigns in your voting district. A filter allows PDC homepage visitors to focus their searches on the races appearing on their own ballots.

The PDC chose to release parts of the Next Generation project as they were available rather than wait for one big reveal, following an agile implementation approach. “Our approach is an iterative one in which we aim to deliver value early and often,” says Chief Information Officer James Gutholm. “We knew that we couldn’t get the entire project done until late in the 2017 election cycle, so it was important to make as much functionality available to public as soon as possible.”

The five citizens who serve on Washington’s PDC plan to continue to update and improve citizen access to data and “shine a light” on state political funding. For the latest on the PDC open data program please visit their gitlab.

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