Learn how to match political candidates to federal relief dollars

As the election neared, we began to question how Washington political officials and candidates had benefited from stimulus grants and loans during the pandemic. We found hundreds of thousands of dollars in aid – in some cases millions – going to companies linked to members of both political parties.

To be fair, all payments found by Crosscut appear to qualify for the intended programs. Officials and candidates told us federal assistance, particularly the Paycheck Protection Program loans, has provided a vital lifeline during the pandemic’s economic downturn. State officials also noted that because the programs were administered at the federal level, they had no control over the award and had to apply independently like anyone else.

Many who spoke to Crosscut said they support the transparency of the federal relief, but added that if we could track the payments, the process was already transparent.

It wasn’t that easy.

While officials and candidates are required to file financial disclosure reports about their business interests to avoid conflicts of interest, many forms of COVID-19 inducements do not appear to fall under the reporting requirements. There is no central place for the public to check how much or what type of relief their officers have received.

To find the payments for our story, Crosscut compared a sample of official- or candidate-owned companies from their disclosure reports to public listings of federal aid payments. These searches often matched false companies with similar names. Some searches returned different payments depending on the punctuation. Other results list payments that have been declined.

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The results also omitted state or local stimulus programs and federal programs, which did not release detailed payment data.

You can help us fill some of these gaps. If you’d like to try this somewhat lengthy matching process, you can check out the instructions at the end of our story and enter your results in our nine-question survey. These survey responses feed into a centralized spreadsheet that could help provide a deeper insight into the types of support services they received across the country.

To learn more about our efforts to investigate federal recovery spending in Washington, sign up for our new monthly Crosscut Investigates newsletter to hear about reporting strategies, public data tools and related coverage from watchdogs from other regional newsrooms to stay up to date.

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