Did you know over $6.4 million was spent to support Oakland candidates and ballot measures in the November 2022 election? Money can mean influence over candidates and the outcomes of an election. For the last 8 years, the Oakland Public Ethics Commission (PEC) and Open Oakland have partnered to make Oakland campaign finance more transparent through Open Disclosure Oakland.
On April 4, 2023, Suzanne Doran (Acting Executive Director of the PEC), Michael Ubell and Colin King-Bailey (Open Disclosure project team) shared insights from their years of collaboration. This blog post is a summary of the discussion with video clips from the event!
Intro to the Public Ethics Commission & Measure W
- The Public Ethics Commission’s mission is to ensure the honesty and integrity of Oakland government. It’s an independent body made up of 7 volunteer citizen commissioners who serve as policymakers. The Commission is supported by 7 staff members.
- The Commission was started in 1996, but didn’t have the authority and independence to effectively enforce laws until 2014 when a ballot measure provided increased authority and funding for staff support.
- The Commission enforces several local laws including:
- The Oakland Campaign Reform Act
- Lobbyist Registration Act
- Government Ethics Act (primarily dealing with conflicts of interest)
- Sunshine Ordinance (open meetings and public records)
- False Endorsement in Campaign Literature Act
- New! - Measure W: Oakland Fair Elections Act - public financing for candidates
- Measure W - Oakland will be the second city in the US (Seattle was the first) and first in California to implement public campaign financing. Each resident will be given a $100 voucher to give to a candidate of their choice. The hope is that this will encourage candidates to interact with all of their constituents and enable residents to run for office without dependence on wealthy donors.
- Most PEC activity is focused on policy change and education to prevent enforcement action, but the Commission is tasked with prosecuting when someone breaks the law. In 2021, the Commission collected over $300,000 in fines (the largest amount in a single year so far).
- Typically 60% or more of campaign funds come from outside of Oakland. Within Oakland, less than 1% of residents donate to campaign initiatives.
- Electronic filing of campaign finance records started in 2013. Former PEC Director Whitney Barazoto approached OpenOakland about making that massive data set more accessible to the public and that was the start of Open Disclosure Oakland.
Open Disclosure Oakland Demo
- All Oakland campaign finance information is available through the City’s website, however the number of documents and the data format make it difficult to sort through.
- Open Disclosure Oakland makes it easy to drill down into each election, candidate, and individual donors to quickly get a sense of who is spending in support of candidates and ballot measures.
See it for yourself at opendisclosure.io!
Learnings and Opportunities
Advantages to collaborating with OpenOakland
- The PEC’s collaboration with OpenOakland has led to a cross-pollination of ideas and community engagement. OpenOakland’s volunteers tend to bring ideas and possibilities from the private sector and take away a deeper understanding of the City and how it operates.
- Open Disclosure Oakland is also a way for the PEC to collect input and gather feedback on its work. Co-creating and collaborating with a group like OpenOakland helps close the gap between government agencies and the communities they aim to serve.
- Maintaining a project like Open Disclosure Oakland requires time and commitment which can sometimes be a challenge since Open Oakland’s members are all volunteers.
- Results aren’t guaranteed and OpenOakland can’t provide products or services that are considered to be a critical need.
- OpenOakland can help develop prototypes that inspire new ideas and show what highly usable data products or digital services can look like.
- For digital products the City is building, OpenOakland can advise on usability and even provide user testing to help ensure the result is high impact. OpenOakland can also create spaces for like-minded City staffers to meet both people in the industry and each other!
- The ballot measure requires the Public Ethics Commission to publish a dashboard with public campaign finance data alongside traditional funding. Open Disclosure is a prototype for what that could look like, and the PEC would like to get input and best practices from OpenOakland.
Open Disclosure Oakland
- Campaign finance data is now geocoded and this opens up possibilities for new analysis and presentation of the data. (Show me the money is an example of that.)
- New datasets are now available in digital format:
- Lobbyist data
- Form 700 - statements of economic interest for high ranking public officials - income, investments, property ownership
- There is an opportunity to tie all of these data sets together to show a more complete picture of influence on public decision-making.