The Virginia Public Access Project grew out of a joint effort by the state's five largest newspapers to track campaign contributions.
The effort was vital because Virginia is one of a handful of states with no contribution limits. Anything goes - as long as candidates identify donors who give more than $100. The system was built upon the premise that by making donor information public, candidates will police themselves to avoid the perception that they are beholden to one particular donor or to donors in general. The flaw, of course, was the public had no meaningful access to the information contained in disclosure reports, which at the time were crammed in file cabinets at the State Board of Elections.
In 1997, David Poole took a leave of absence from his job as a political reporter for The Roanoke Times to build a campaign finance database for the newspapers. Poole envisioned transforming the database into a public resource that would provide meaningful public access. Poole recruited a Board of Directors who shared his vision, and VPAP was incorporated in April 1997.
VPAP transformed campaign finance disclosure in Virginia. Over the years, VPAP has expanded its mission to connect Virginians with nonpartisan information about politics.
Your Window into Virginia Politics
Key Dates in VPAP History
- January 1997: The VPAP Board of Directors holds its initial organizational meeting. Jim Beamer is elected chairman.
- April 1997: VPAP opens an office at the VCU Center for Public Policy, its initial partner in providing data to a consortium of newspapers.
- June 1997: VPAP goes online with a searchable database of campaign donors to legislative and statewide candidates.
- September 1997: The Internal Revenue Service grants VPAP status as a 501(c)3 charity.
- November 1997: Newspaper consortium agrees to extend funding through 1999 elections.
- Spring 1999 : VPAP helps the State Board of Elections launch VAFiling, software that lets candidates e-file campaign finance disclosure reports.
- January 2000: VPAP expands its database to include expenditures.
- April 2000: VPAP and VCU mutually agree to end partnership; VPAP moves to one-room office in downtown Richmond.
- January 2001: VPAP expands its database to include gifts.
- Fall 2002: VPAP coordinates voluntary disclosure of money raised and spent by groups involved in regional sales-tax and statewide bond referendums.
- Fall 2003: VPAP posts its first set of local data - contributions to candidates for the Board of Supervisors and Chairman in three counties: Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William.
- November 2004: VPAP doubles its staff by hiring a second full-time employee.
- Summer 2005: VPAP expands database to include donors to PACs that e-file with State Board of Elections.
- September 2005: VPAP launches dynamic maps that visually display donations to statewide candidates from each locality.
- November 2006: VPAP expands database to include personal financial holding disclosures filed by General Assembly candidates.
- January 2007: VPAP expands database to include list of registered lobbyists.
- April 2007: VPAP announces initiative to expand transparency in local elections.
- May 2007: VPAP offers maps that plot donations at the ZIP Code level.
- May 2008: VPAP launches new website, completing six-month process of redesigning its database and computer systems.
- Spring 2011 – VPAP provides transparency to redistricting process, including maps that make it easy to see the shift in district boundaries.
- June 2011 – VPAP assumes responsibility for daily news clipping service started in 1996 by Tom Whipple of Arlington.
- November 2012 - VPAP partners with George Mason University to create "After Virginia Votes," a look back at the 2012 U.S. Senate race between Republican George Allen and Democrat Tim Kaine.
- April 2013 - VPAP changes name of clipping service to "VaNews" and introduces newsboy mascot.
- Summer 2013 - VPAP adopts new criteria for VPAP Sunshine Caucus that encourage greater clarity in the information candidates disclose in campaign finance reports.
- December 2013 - VPAP Board of Directors recommends five steps that, if adopted by the General Assembly, would results in candidate and lobbyist disclosures that are more timely and clear.
- April 2014 - VPAP Board of Directors approves three-year strategic plan.
- Fall 2014 - VPAP launches a redesigned website that includes mobile-friendly design.