Introducing a new bulk downloads site tracking money in California politics
Check out the beta version of our online archive and walk away with a prize.
Today we’re launching an expansion of this site, remaking it as the only destination offering hassle-free access to the bulk data tracking money in California politics.
Until now, analysts investigating the role of lobbyists and campaign donors at the Sacramento statehouse have been limited to an unwieldy dump from CAL-ACCESS, the jumbled, dirty and difficult database maintained by California’s Secretary of State.
We’ve built something better. And we’ve got even more in the works.
First, making access easy
As of this morning, the latest state data are downloaded, parsed, cleaned and republished each day at calaccess.californiacivicdata.org/downloads/latest/.
There you can download the entire dump, or just the files you want. The numerous errors that litter the source files have been eliminated. The data have been converted to simple flat files of comma-separated values, easily imported to spreadsheets and other database software.
Second, archiving everything
We also automatically archive each day’s source files. That is unlike the state dump, which officials overwrite each day.
If you want to rewind CAL-ACCESS to yesterday, last week or a month ago, we’ve got you covered. We plan to save and serve each day’s data into the foreseeable future.
Third, cracking the codes
The CAL-ACCESS database is one of the most confusing systems we’ve ever encountered. California’s Secretary of State Alex Padilla has called it “a Frankenstein monster of code.”
To spare anyone else from having to sift through the state’s outdated, incomplete and inconsistent documentation ever again, we’ve compiled simple searchable explanations for each of the system’s 80 data tables and 42 forms.
Thanks to the more than 150 volunteers who have contributed to our project over the past two years, each file, field and lookup code is now linked online.
Fourth, establishing a simple API
Repeat visitors can probably tell we’ve put a lot of effort into Aaron Williams’s redesign for the site. But beneath the surface is something more: The foundation of a new web API that aims to improve access not just for people, but for the scripts they write as well.
All of our downloads are now available at stable and concise URLs at a new domain, calaccess.download.
That means you can always download and unzip the latest full archive from your terminal like this:
Fifth, charting the course ahead
We’re proud of what we’ve put together. But our work is far from finished.
For newcomers, the odd structure of the CAL-ACCESS database’s source files remains a significant obstacle.
But don’t worry, our team is on it. We’re already hard at work chiseling easy-to-understand files that simplify the system’s convoluted structure.
Look for those to arrive in the coming weeks, or jump into the embryonic django-calaccess-processed-data code repository where that work is happening.
Finally, how you can play and win
Our new logo is right?
But wouldn’t it be if it were on a t-shirt?
BUT wouldn’t it be if it were on YOUR t-shirt?
This can happen. The first five people who visit GitHub and file a confirmed bug report or merged pull request for our open-source website win a t-shirt with our new logo.
See you there.