Lesson 3 of 19
In Progress

→ Exercise 1A: Calculate FEC disbursements on food (or junk food).

Marjorie June 3, 2020

In this exercise we will query the Federal Election Commission website for campaign spending on food. We’ll export the resulting dataset, and use an online tool to find the total (“sum”) dollars spent.

  1. Visit the FEC disbursements page. Sample URLs:

The first link finds spending on soda, snacks, pizza, hot dogs, and donuts (and doughnuts). The second finds spending on breakfast, lunch and dinner. Both are for the 2017-2018 election cycle. Feel free to adjust the search terms in the “Disbursement details” and “Report time period” and other filters to match your interest.

  1. Press the Export button in the upper right to create a  CSV file.
  1. (CSV stands for “Comma-Separated Values.” CSV files are easily imported into Excel or Google Sheets. But we’re going to use a simpler tool developed by data journalism professor Dylan Freedman. You may use Excel or Google Sheets if you prefer.)
  1. Click the “Download” button in the “Your Downloads” section of the page. (Be sure to make a note of where you downloaded the file.)
  2. Visit https://datajourn.com/tools/spreadsheet and drag the saved CSV file to the target area. Wait for the file to load.
  3. Scroll right to visit the disbursement_amount column header. Click the column header to show some simple statistics. View the sum.
    (We hope this rapid calculator comes in handy in your other organizing work!)

(A note: We left “candy” off of the sample URL because some people are named Candy, and it’s beyond the scope of this exercise to sort that out. In fact, some people have the word “Pizza” as part of their last name, as well. Maybe someday we’ll offer a course on “Regular Expressions” and other filtering techniques.)

We guess that a significant portion of donated food isn’t reported, but at least this gives us a view of  reported food and junk food spending.

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