What a long, strange trip it’s been

Today, reporter Joe Yerardi has some secrets to share with you. He’s going to take you behind the scenes of his Follow the Money project to air the good, the bad — and the very best.

Take it away, Joe!

Joe YerardiJoe Yerardi here. I don’t typically pop into these newsletters but I wanted to make an exception today to reflect briefly on the campaign that’s been and Follow the Money’s role in it.

I hadn’t even realized I’d be covering the mayor’s race until the week before I started at inewsource at the beginning of September.

inewsource‘s Executive Director Lorie Hearn told me I should read up on California campaign finance law, and she made a reference to reviving something called “follow the money” — an occasional feature during the 2012 mayor’s race.

Little did I realize that the next five months of my professional life would be consumed with the stories — large and small — of money’s influence in the race to succeed Bob Filner.

Shortly after our coverage began, Lorie realized that with less than 90 days until the November primary, state law required political committees report all contributions from individuals and other entities donating at least $1,000 within 24 hours. The question: could we take this campaign finance data — locked away in complicated spreadsheets on the City Clerk’s website — and turn it into something that would better inform San Diegans? The answer was yes.

Voila! “Follow the Money: Updated Daily.”

What began as interactive charts was quickly upgraded to include a searchable database of campaign contributions and, eventually, a map that combined contribution data with Census data to show readers where — literally — candidates’ money was coming from.

In addition to the daily updates, I covered everything from little-known member communications to the Lincoln Club’s scorched Earth campaign to knock Nathan Fletcher out of the primary to the lax reporting requirements for well-heeled political action committees. One member of the Lincoln Club, upon seeing his company’s name in our database of donors to the organization, felt compelled to publish an open letter making clear that he had quit the club because of their anti-Fletcher crusade.

Our database became a key tool in the campaign itself. Kevin Faulconer’s campaign seized on our database of candidate contributions to assail David Alvarez as beholden to union bosses. They even built their own anti-Alvarez website — SanDiegoCashCounter — using our database. (Our separate interactive showing daily numbers of early voters was used by both sides in their get-out-the-vote plans.)

Naturally, follow the Money attracted plenty of attention in the local press. Everybody from Voice of San Diego to La Jolla Patch referenced our reporting.

Follow the Money received national attention, as well.

The Associated Press used our data to highlight the differing sources of contributions to Alvarez and Faulconer. POLITICO, too, used our data as evidence of the national stakes in the race. Even the Washington Post linked to a story of ours summarizing the state of the money race late in the campaign.

And while all reporters like to see their work recognized by their peers, the most gratifying part of this experience has been hearing from you. So many of you called, emailed and tweeted your appreciation that someone in the local press was keeping close tabs on money in the mayor’s race. Those words meant a lot. Because at the end of the day, we work for you.

I know you’ve heard this before, but it’s worth repeating: This work isn’t easy.

It’s difficult, always complicated, frequently frustrating and occasionally infuriating. It also doesn’t come cheap. There are precious few news organizations that would dedicate a reporter to tracking the influence of money in local politics. Thankfully, inewsource is one of them. And I’m proud to be a part of it.

See you on the campaign trail.

Regards,
Joe Yerardi

Lorie HearnAs you can tell, Joe is speaking from the heart (and I didn’t put him up to it). He wanted to share what has been his work-life since arriving in San Diego.

Joe couldn’t do what he does without support from people like you. So if Joe’s story — and his work — have moved you, become an inewsource member and give a tax-deductible donation today.

And don’t keep a good thing to yourself. Forward this email to a friend.

— Lorie Hearn, executive director
loriehearn@inewsource.org

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About Joe Yerardi:

Joe Yerardi
Joe Yerardi is a freelance data journalist for inewsource, where he worked between 2013 and 2016 as an investigative reporter and data specialist. To contact him with questions, tips or corrections, email joe.yerardi@gmail.com.