Campaign finance updates in real time? There’s an API for that

Recognizing an always-on political news cycle demands immediate updates, the New York Times says its updated its campaign finance API to make updates in real time. This will give them (and other apps using this Application Programming Interface, which allows outside app developers to retrieve the data collected) access to information significantly quicker than prior incarnations.

The API, which initially launched during the 2008 presidential election, previously updated every other week. In some cases, some data updated daily, according to a post about the upgrade from NYT developer Derek Willis. Now, the updates happen within minutes after the FEC receives them (updated every 15 minutes).

[W]hen a candidate or committee files a regular report detailing contributions and expenses, that committee’s summary information gets updated immediately in the API. When a new independent expenditure filing is sent to the F.E.C., the data from that report goes straight into the API, which means that we can update our election interactive within minutes.

Here’s all the information you could ever need to know about this API/its documentation, including the sorts of information it allows news app developers to retrieve related to candidates, contributors and filings.

The Times uses this API to update its Election Spending interactive feature. Outside the Grey Lady’s own journalism, ProPublica also uses this API for it’s PAC Track, which tracks who’s donating to Super PACs and where those contributions are going.

While this change isn’t something the end-user will appreciate today, it’s an important step in the development of this always-evolving feature and perhaps a harbinger of other cool things to come. We take for granted now this campaign finance data is at our (readers’) fingertips, but as little as four years ago this was ground-breaking stuff for the average person to get their hands on. Poynter’s Jeff Sonderman has an interesting related post on this topic discussing how the API helps collaboration and why the NYT and other news organizations go through the trouble of offering them.