By Chris Adams
For Carrie Levine, writing about campaign finance is more than just dollars and cents. It’s a window on the world.
“The truth is, we have the best beat in town,” said Levine (bio, Twitter), an editor and reporter at the Center for Public Integrity. “We can write about anything, because money touches just about everything.”
In a session with Paul Miller fellows at the National Press Foundation, Levine and two other campaign finance reporters offered tips and strategies for covering this numbers-heavy, expansive beat.
And one thing they emphasized is that those numbers are just part of the story. The best stories that emerge from the data shed a light on policy preferences of the people who are or want to be senators, representatives, presidents and state officials.
With all those numbers, there are also risks.
“Every once in a while, you see things that are too good to be true – and sometimes they are,” said Michael Beckel, a Paul Miller alum who is now the manager of research, investigations and policy analysis for the advocacy organization Issue One. “They might have mistakenly added extra zeros.”
Fredreka Schouten, a campaign finance reporter for CNN and also a Paul Miller alum, detailed the ways in which stories are more than just those mind-numbing candidate filings at the Federal Election Commission. Instead, said Schouten (bio, Twitter), source building is vital on the beat – just as it is with any beat.
She described one story about the Koch brothers, mega-donors to Republican and conservative causes. Schouten spent months becoming an expert on Charles and David Koch, their businesses and their political network. All her work paid off when she was given an exclusive interview with Charles Koch, during which he laid out his political plans.
“It took patience,” she said. “This story took me 25 minutes to write but basically a year to report.”