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Sunlight’s ‘Political Party Time’ illuminates the secretive world of fundraising

Tuesday, December 15, 2015 13:05
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(Before It's News)

By The Sunlight Foundation

There ain’t no party like a politician’s party cause a politician’s party don’t stop. (Seriously.)

From breakfast bellinis to lavish luncheons to dinner dates and the receptions in between, politicians are on a nonstop fundraising circuit. Every day, those vying for office must travel their districts and the District of Columbia alike to do one thing: fundraise. With the 2016 elections kicking into high gear, this will become more prevalent — and more important to track. We want to follow the money, but we need your help.

What is Political Party Time?

Political Party Time is currently the most comprehensive public (and free!) database for fundraisers, ranging from presidential candidates down to state representatives. Whether submitted by a reliable source or unearthed by our team, we post the who-what-when-where on fundraisers across the country.

Why it matters

Today’s public officials must understand an abundance of broad and nuanced topics ranging from foreign affairs, gun control, tax reform, education and environmental issues, among others. Lobbyists help lawmakers by contextualizing facts and educating lawmakers and their staff on certain issues. However, these gatherings often act as opportunities for big donors to get face time with lawmakers, and it is equally important for citizens to know who is trying to influence their representatives.

By shining light on these fundraisers, we hope to provide a platform for citizens to see how lobbying and fundraising influences public policy. While a constituent’s call to their local lawmaker may be heartfelt, it rarely resonates like a $50,000 check. Big donors enjoy premium access to our highest lawmakers, and that’s something the average citizen can’t buy.

Since 2008, we’ve compiled over 20,000 invitations in our Party Time database — featuring concerts, receptions, baseball games, fishing trips, pheasant hunts, beach weekends and much, much more. Reporters, activists, policymakers and regular citizens use the invitations to extend their understanding of the influence of money and politics.

Mapping five years’ worth of political fundraisers — note the proximity to the Capitol building. (Graphic credit: Sunlight Foundation)

How we do it

On Political Party Time, you can search and sort parties according to who gets the money, who throws the fundraiser, where the party was held, what kind of party it was and what other VIPs attended. Often you can find out about fundraisers here before they happen, but our data is also useful for looking back and discovering patterns in giving.

When it comes to political fundraising, Congress doesn’t travel far; we found that over three-fourths of all political fundraisers in D.C. take place within three city blocks of the U.S. Capitol.

No one is more creative at raising money than those inside the Beltway, where fundraisers operate more like artists than entrepreneurs. From small receptions to luxury suites in baseball parks; from $10 student tickets to $100,000 Co-Host fees, fundraisers don’t discriminate if you can donate.

We always strive to collect and post invitations. But to provide a complete picture, we also search the web for any fundraising tips. Some invitations come directly from beneficiaries or hosts, others from reputable anonymous sources. We post whatever documentation available as a public service in the interest of creating more transparency about the relationships between lawmakers and the people who try to influence them.

How you can help

Simply save it as a Word doc, PDF file or image, then submit it anonymously here or attach in an email to [email protected]. If you would prefer to get us the invitation in some other way, or you have so many invitations that you need a different method to get them to us, please contact our communications team. We promise anonymity — your name will not be attached to the invitation.

Be sure to keep up with our Twitter account and blog, where we’ll be spotlighting the most notable high-dollar parties. With your help, we can follow the money through this often forgotten — and often mysterious — avenue of influence.

The Sunlight Foundation is a non-profit, nonpartisan organization that uses the power of the Internet to catalyze greater government openness and transparency, and provides new tools and resources for media and citizens, alike.


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