Donald W. Reynolds National Center For Business Journalism

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Follow the money: Inside the creation of the Arizona dark money bot

October 3, 2016

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The Arizona Dark Money Bot tracks political expenditures in Arizona. (Photo screenshot via Twitter)

In 2014, Evan Wyloge noticed that $10 million in dark money (money donated to a political fund without a public disclosed source) had been spent in local and state elections in Arizona. He saw the need for a new investigative tool.

That need grew into the Arizona Dark Money Bot, a Twitter account that tracks political expenditures in Arizona. The tool was created by the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting, where Wyloge is a senior reporter, and tweets out every time money is spent on a campaign.

The purpose, says Wyloge, is to track “who’s spending and on who.” For example, on August 29th, @AZDarkMoneyBot tweeted that the Market Freedom Alliance had spent $15,100 to defeat Ron Gould in Arizona Legislative District 5 the day before.

The bot searches the Secretary of State’s website for the reports dark money groups are required to file and inserts the information into a database. The bot then creates tweets saying who spent the money and on which political races. The bot also links to the filing reports where these details are found.

Wyloge thinks the best part of the dark money bot is that it automates part of the journalistic process.

“It’s important to be aware of the types of tools that are out there. See if there’s a way to automate some part of the research process that takes up a lot of time on a regular basis,” he says.

In a time of political friction when distrust is particularly high, tools such as the dark money bot can be critical for informing constituents.

Check out what the Arizona Dark Money Bot has found so far:

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