FEC disputes Alternet story

The election agency disputes an Alternet article posted by Salon [UPDATED]

By Alex Halperin

Published July 18, 2012 2:19PM (EDT)

On Tuesday, Salon posted an article by Alternet which stated that the Federal Election Commission had been "quietly deleting" campaign contribution data. The agency disputes the article's accuracy. On Tuesday evening it sent the following email to Salon:


"A recent blog raised concerns that the FEC may have deleted certain data with respect to large contributions during a certain timeframe in the recent past. (http:www.alternet.org/story/156329/revealed%3A_key_files_on_big_ticket_political_donations_vanish_at_federal_election_commission). The suggestion is incorrect.

"The data have always been available to the public on the FEC website through the Report Image Search and also through our Public Disclosure Office. At no time was this or any other campaign finance information removed from the public record.

"On April 15, 2012, the FEC transferred some files that are used to transmit large data sets to researchers from an older database to a more modern database. During this process, it appears that a transaction code from the data files was inadvertently overlooked. As a result, some data reported on the FEC Form 5, the Report of Independent Expenditures Made and Contributions Received, were not transmitted to the newer database. This technical problem will be corrected by tomorrow night.

"As part of an ongoing effort to improve our systems, the FEC is currently in the process of implementing a new Data Warehouse. This and other initiatives spurred by public input will assist the public, press, and researchers to access campaign finance data in a more efficient and user-friendly manner. The FEC encourages researchers and reporters to raise issues such as this with our press or public information officers in order to avoid inaccurate reporting and resolve technical issues as expeditiously as possible."


UPDATE: The authors have responded:

We are delighted to see that in an official statement the FEC backhandedly concede our central claim: that sometime after January, 2012, important files disappeared from its bulk downloads, which are the crucial avenue for transmission of the agency’s data to the wider world. Sites and scholars relying on these downloads have in fact been seriously misled, as millions of dollars worth of contributions are no longer there. Thanks to a “technical problem,” the FEC acknowledges, “some data reported on the FEC Form 5, the Report of Independent Expenditures Made and Contributions Received, were not transmitted to the newer database” it installed. Exactly. Like the records of Simmons, Templeton, Jr., Foster Friess, and the other C9 records we named.

The FEC, which, one presumes, only just now discovered its error, nevertheless claims to know somehow that the data were always in its system. We have two responses to this. Firstly, isn’t it marvelous that the technical glitch hit precisely the politically hot files relating to 501(c) 4 “charities” and ostensible public interest groups that have been the object of so many complaints, including the recent Senate vote that narrowly failed the other evening? That was really bad luck. Secondly, we were absolutely clear in our original piece that if you went back to the original reports filed at the time, you could still find the contribution records. So much for the FEC’s talk about its “report image search,” which, of course, would be available in their office, too.

We hope that the FEC follows through on its promise that the records will be corrected and we would be pleased if the agency puts in place some new procedures to prevent contribution records from disappearing from its downloads. We will watch its progress with interest. And we would be happy to consult with the agency about its data – especially if its spokespersons won’t simply refer us to other public interest groups when we call their press office, as we recounted in our previous post.


Alex Halperin

Alex Halperin is news editor at Salon. You can follow him on Twitter @alexhalperin.

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