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Help 'Free the Files' on election TV ad spending

Outside groups are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on campaign advertisements to influence the coming elections—money that has long been hard to track.

This summer, the Federal Communications Commission ordered TV stations to pull back the curtain a bit, requiring them to publish online detailed records of political ad buys. Before, these records were only available by visiting stations in person, an issue ProPublica spotlighted in our Free The Files coverage. So far the new rule only covers the top 50 markets, and it's impossible to search these files by candidate or political group—meaning it’s impossible to get a full picture of the spending. 

We want to change that. That’s where you come in.

Use the Free the Files widget at right to help detail campaign ad filings in 33 swing markets. To participate, use the drop-down menu to pick a market, click on the “Give me a file!” bar, create a log-in or sign in via Facebook, then pick from a list of recent ad contracts. Fill in the blanks on the form, then click “Submit file,” and you’re done.

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Every day, we’ll be pulling fresh files from the FCC website, and asking for your help extracting key data points that will help uncover outside spending in the final days of the campaign.

Every file you help free will be added to our page, so we’ll all be able to get a better picture of the outside groups’ spending.   

Read ProPublica’s reporting on “dark money” campaign ad spending

What do we expect to find in the FCC filings? A range of information – from identifying which outside groups are buying ads and where, to finding new groups that enter the fray late in the game, to details on who is behind opaque nonprofits that are playing a larger role in the election. That’s how ProPublica’s Justin Elliott found the players behind the Government Integrity Fund, a little-known nonprofit that has spent big money to unseat Sen. Sherrod Brown in Ohio. 

Get started

We have less than three weeks to go before the election. Log in now to help us start freeing the files!

You can keep track of our progress by joining our Facebook group – tell us what you’ve learned from the documents, get updates from our reporters, or ask questions about the documents.

You can also follow #FreetheFiles on Twitter.

ProPublica is an independent, nonprofit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest.

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