Campaign finance, election results dominate inewsource’s best data projects for 2018

Campaign finance, election results dominate inewsource’s best data projects for 2018

The term “Follow The Money” was a staple among our data offerings for much of 2018. It was an election year afterall, and inewsource takes pride in being your go-to source for money in politics.

We also covered topics from Mello-Roos property taxes to kindergarten vaccination rates to standardized test scores. And, of course, we built maps. A lot of them.

For our year-end roundup, we’re not measuring our “top” data graphics by pageviews. Instead, we’re highlighting those that we think had the most impact in the community.

One of our proudest achievements was developing a searchable San Diego County campaign finance database. It includes records for 700 elected positions where candidates have to file financial reports with the county, including the Board of Supervisors, district attorney, sheriff and school boards. It’s only available at data.inewsource.org.

We also continued to refine the user experience on the inewsource Data Center, where you can explore data, download it or read stories related to our interactive graphics. The site now loads faster and works better on your phone or tablet.

These improvements, and the underlying data behind our interactive graphics, are no small task. It takes a team of journalists and developers to make them happen. We think it’s worth it, because we’re offering something that no other news organization in the San Diego region does.

We’d love your feedback on how we can improve the Data Center, what you’d like to see more of and other ideas you might have. For questions or comments, email me at: brandon.quester@inewsource.org.

No. 1: Following The Money: Campaign finance transaction databases

Following the money is a big part of what we do during election years. We expanded these efforts for 2018, most notably bringing our readers the first-ever searchable database of San Diego County campaign finance transactions.

The county stores this data, but it’s in an arcane format and the website is difficult to navigate. We gathered and simplified the data, then turned it into a searchable table that displays the transactions according to who contributed to whom, how much and when. The database has more than 50,000 transactions, nearly 40,000 of which are contributions, for a total of nearly $24 million coming in and out of San Diego County campaigns.

We took the same approach to updating our campaign finance database for the city of San Diego. It updates daily, and as of mid-December contains more than 420,000 transactions for a total now exceeding $117 million.

Click here to explore San Diego County campaign finance data. Click here to explore campaign finance data in the city of San Diego.

No. 2: Political party spending

This election year inewsource reported dozens of stories tracking the flow of money in local races. One that stands out is Jill Castellano’s piece about political party spending on local candidates. The reporting required such a deep understanding and analysis of campaign finance data that advisers to political parties told inewsource they couldn’t figure it out on their own.

The article included a searchable database of political party spending with more than 350 transactions by the San Diego County Democratic and Republican parties from 2011 to 2018. Charts within the article showed the differences in spending between the parties. And, as we do with all our complex data reporting, we included a methodology explaining our analysis.

No. 3: Precinct-level election maps

inewsource’s primary and general election maps showed how San Diego County voters in select races cast their ballots during an election year with unprecedented spending. These precinct-level, interactive maps let readers search their address to see the breakdown of votes within their precinct, or click around to view the results from others. We believe it’s important to understand how our community voted, and we pride ourselves on sharing this level of detail in a searchable, easy-to-use format.

For the June primary, we used color-coded maps for key races, including two congressional contests that reached into neighboring counties. We took the same approach for the November election and focused on eight races and three ballot measures.

No. 4: Mello-Roos: The tax you choose

inewsource continued its focus on Mello-Roos tax districts in San Diego County. The taxes, which have been collected for nearly 30 years across California, help fund community improvements to infrastructure such as schools and roads. Our 2018 analysis uncovered that the Sweetwater Union High School District had used at least $46 million in Mello-Roos taxes paid by Eastlake property owners to fund projects in other parts of Chula Vista. One resident said the district uses the special taxes like a “slush fund.”

A big part of that reporting included an update to our searchable Mello-Roos map, which shows parcel-level details of who pays into which districts throughout San Diego County. The data goes back five years for each parcel, including the amount paid per Mello-Roos district and contact details for the agency managing each fund.

Click here to search Mello-Roos tax data.

No. 5: Vaccination rates decline as medical exemptions rise

inewsource for years has reported on childhood vaccination rates and the debate surrounding them. This year, we found rates for kindergarteners in the state and San Diego County dropped slightly this past school year, which concerns some medical professionals.

We also updated our vaccination rate map, which goes back to 2014. It’s searchable so you can see the vaccination rates of schools in your neighborhood. The story that showcased this year’s map and data analysis also includes two interactive graphics that show how medical and personal belief vaccination exemption rates have changed over time.

No. 6: America’s Wall

In 2017, inewsource and KPBS partnered to explore the existing structure of the U.S.-Mexico border wall. It included an in-depth look at what fencing exists now, when it was built and how it has played into the evolving national discussion about immigration. We plan to update it once we get more current records from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, but our map continues to be one of our most popular data projects.

After getting requests from academics and journalists, we made public this year the underlying data of each piece of fencing. The results have been far reaching. Most recently, the data was used in a joint analysis by Stanford University and Dartmouth College about the economic impact of border fencing.

Given the ongoing debate about immigration, the migrant caravan and President Donald Trump’s call for more border wall funding, the map continues to be popular on our website.

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About Brandon Quester:

Brandon Quester is director of data and visuals at inewsource. To contact him with tips, suggestions or corrections, please email brandonquester [at] inewsource [dot] org.