Lobbyist watchdog Web site OpenSecrets.org is releasing the data underlying its searchable databases so that anyone can download and manipulate the information, the site announced on Monday.
The data is only available in a format called CSV, or comma-separated values, a simple and common coding that was selected to accommodate a wide range of users, said Susi Alger, director of information technology at the Center for Responsive Politics, which operates OpenSecrets.
"We wanted to get the data out to users as quickly as possible, and it was easiest to program, document and maintain a single format," Alger said.
Many open government advocates are urging that, when feasible, financial data should be released in XBRL, or Extensible Business Reporting Language, a code for publishing financial information that allows the data to be shared between Web applications.
Starting Monday, companies are required to exchange financial statements with the SEC in XBRL. Some advocates say XBRL also should be used to report stimulus spending and the results of the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program.
Alger said the amount of bandwidth required to download XBRL files would tie up connection to the organization's servers, which could shut out other users who are trying to access the data.
That said, OpenSecrets plans to adjust its data sets in accordance with feedback from users "to allow the CSV format we are using to work even better," she added.
The site's users guide states: "We are excited to be able to share this information in a form that allows others to use it and we look forward to new mashups," or Web applications that integrate OpenSecrets' data with other relevant information to create new tools for monitoring the interplay between money and public policy.
The available information includes campaign finance data from the Federal Election Commission; lobbying data from the Senate's Office of Public Records; contributions and expenditures disclosed to the IRS by political committees; and personal finance data from the Office of Government Ethics and various congressional offices.
"I think it's an important step and will certainly help in pulling information together," said Neal Hannon, a Manville, R.I.-based XBRL consultant who has helped companies understand federal XBRL rules.
"It is likely that you could take this information and mark up the financial aspect of it, in an XBRL taxonomy," he added. "However you'd have to generate your own data list and create your own taxonomy to handle it."