Sunlight Foundation

How to easily set up a campaign finance database

No one does federal-level campaign finance better than the Center for Responsive Politics, and for the last year or so, they've outdone themselves by making all of their databases--millions of records that a staff of human beings tirelessly cleans up--available, for free, in their entirety. 

The only downside? The scale of CRP's research is so wide that we're talking dozens of frequently-updated tables with hundreds of fields. Downloading each CSV and importing into a database with fields properly named and sized is tedious and time-consuming.

The Sunlight Foundation has written a simple script that allows reporters and database researchers to download everything they need by running one command. You can run it periodically, and it checks whether your databases are outdated, re-downloading them only if necessary.

You need Python and MySQL installed on your computer or server to use it. Create a directory and put the two Python files in it; modify the top of the file to set certain parameters--your login credentials for the CRP download site and your MySQL database information.

Then, from the command line, run the script by typing, from the proper directory: Python It will take several hours to download and extract the data, especially the first time it's run. But after that, you're good to go.

IMPORTANT: To avoid overloading CRP's servers with these very large files, please run this script only late at night or other off-peak times.

If you want to manipulate the data with Microsoft Access, here's how:

  • Set up an ODBC connection by going to Start-> Control Panel -> Administrative Tools -> Data Sources (ODBC). Add new source.
  • On the 'create new data source' dialog window, scroll through the list of drivers to select MySQL ODBC near the end. If it's not there, you need to download the mysql connector. Then, it should appear. Fill in the connection information--the same MySQL connection info you supplied in the python file.
  • In Microsoft Access, go to the External Data tab, click more, and ODBC. When it asks you if you want to import or link, select link, then select all the tables.

If you're unfamiliar with Python or MySQL: You can download Python and MySQL for Windows for free. (If you're on Linux, you already have them.) To create a new default MySQL user, go to the Command Line terminal and type:

> mysql

> create database sun_crp;

Your username is the default "root" then, and your password is blank; the database is sun_crp. You open up the file in Notepad and change those settings accordingly. 

Then from a command line in the folder housing the two python files, simply type

> python

Again, you can download the two files here. Enjoy!

  1. # Muhammad Yahya

    I am trying to use this script to sync data. but facing following error. $ python Traceback (most recent call last): File "", line 15, in ? from download import CRPDownloader File "/home/muhammad/opensecrets/python/", line 8, in ? from import BaseCommand, CommandError ImportError: No module named $ Please help how to fix it. Regards

  2. # Luke Rosiak

    Muhammad, good question. That's a bit of Django which isn't really necessary, and probably shouldn't have been included for simplicity's sake. You should be able to comment out or delete the line "from django.core..." as well as everything beginning "class CRPDownloadCommand(BaseCommand):" near the end of and it should work. Another alternative would be to install Django.

  3. # Owen Mundy

    Thanks a lot for providing this. Finally got this working and made a post about it here: The script is erroring on the members table. Not sure why... INFO:root:This FAILED:INSERT INTO members VALUES ( %s, %s, %s, %s);['', 'CRPName', 'Party', 'Office'] INFO:root:This FAILED:INSERT INTO members VALUES ( %s, %s, %s, %s);['N00007665', 'Abercrombie, Neil', 'D', 'HI01']

Search the Blog

Popular tags

2012 election 2012 elections 2013 Inauguration Ad Ad Hawk Ad Hoc AIG american crossroads Arab Spring Barack Obama BP budget Campaign contributions Campaign Finance Center for Responsive Politics Citizens United Colorado consumer banking Contracting Conventions2012 Correspondence crossroads GPS dark money Data Mine datamine debt ceiling Disclose act Distributed Research Dodd-Frank Earmarks Election 2012 Elizabeth Warren EPA FARA FCC FDA FEC Federal Election Commission Fellows Finance Data Catalog Financial Bailout Financial Reform FLIT FOIA follow the unlimited money Foreign lobbying Foreign Lobbying Influence Tracker freshmen Fundraising Guns Handy Tools health care Hoc House House Freshmen 112th House Majority PAC Immigration Independent Expenditure Independent expenditures influence Influence Explorer investment James Bopp Jr. John Boehner John Kerry Lobbying lobbying tracker Logs_6553 Majority PAC Mark Sanford Market Meltdown Media Medicare meeting logs Mitt Romney National Rifle Association Newt Gingrich nonprofits NRA obama OGD Open Government Directive Orrin Hatch outside spending Party Time PMA Group political ad sleuth Political Party Time Politwoops President Obama Priorities USA Action Recovery Rep. John Murtha Research Restore Our Future revolving door Rick Perry Rick Santorum Romney Ron Paul Sen. Christopher Dodd Senate Sheldon Adelson states of transparency Stealthy Wealthy stimulus Sunlight Live super committee super congress Super PAC super PAC profile Super PACs supercommittee Supercongress supreme court TARP Taxpayers for Common Sense transparency