By The Numbers: Methodology | St. Louis Public Radio

By The Numbers: Methodology

Apr 28, 2013

In the interest of complete transparency, we thought we would pull back the curtain and explain the methodology behind this project and the data.

We receive the data from the Missouri Ethics Commission. The MEC receives the data from lobbyists who report the expenses, and the data is sent to legislators and statewide officials before it's made public. The data is made public at the beginning of the month for two months prior -- so we get March's numbers on May 1st, and we'll get April's numbers on June 1st.

It has limitations. One of which being the information is self-reported by lobbyists and is entered by the lobbyists, who are humans. It means mistakes are possible.

Another limitation is that the recipient can be hidden relatively easily. The vast majority of lobbyist spending went to committees and groups instead of individual legislators. When the gift is disclosed as going to a committee or a group, it doesn't reveal who the members that partook in the gift are. And the rules on this are somewhat murky. In a committee of 20, if only one or two legislators show up, it can still be disclosed as a group expenditure. It's completely accepted, as long as all the members are invited. But no proof is required that the invite went to every member.

For the purposes of this project, we have counted all gifts to legislators' spouses, children and staff as going to the respective legislator.

There are expenditures that are given to us as "null." It could mean a couple different things -- a lobbyist's inadvertent keystroke (which is common and understandable) or it means that the recipient reimbursed the lobbyist. That reimbursement could be a legislator who has determined that he or she will not accept gifts, and will thus reimburse the lobbyist for anything he or she receives. It's somewhat problematic, however, because that gift might not be paid for out of the legislator's pocket -- it could be paid for with campaign funds.

Since legislators are not filing frequent campaign finance forms during legislative session, and there are far too many "null" gifts to routinely examine every single one, we have decided to omit those gifts. This is an issue we will examine further down the road, however.

What does it mean if your legislator isn't on the list? It means that (for the months covered) that legislator has not accepted gifts sourced to him or her personally. It's still possible he or she is partaking in group gifts.

If you have any further questions, send an email to or tweet @csmcdaniel