The Federal Election Commission has begun making campaign finance reports more readily available, immediately making the lives of political reporters and data junkies a thousand times easier.
With little fanfare, the FEC has started making individual filings publicly available as a Real Simple Syndication feed, instantaneously available in any RSS system, such as Google Reader. The Sunlight Foundation, a Washington nonprofit that advocates for open government, reported the development last week.
Technically speaking, FEC databases have long been public, but getting them has been a mind-numbing process. On the 20th of each month, the commission posts a large text file — sometimes approaching half a gigabyte — for every campaign finance filing over the previous month. Organizations that wanted to manipulate the data had to use special database tools to extract it, and it then had to be read by a real person for sorting into appropriate reporting categories.
Some of those hurdles remain — the reports are still in the .FEC file format and are still most easily accessed using the commission's downloadable command-line tool. But at least they now come to you directly and are easily browsable.
The Sunlight Foundation — which pushed for an RSS feed at an FEC meeting this year — called the development "a modest step" but one that was important "because it acknowledges that time-sensitive data needs to be presented in a convenient machine readable format."
If you want to try it for yourself, you can access the new RSS here.