As the election approached, we began to wonder how politicians and candidates in Washington had benefited from stimulus grants and loans throughout the pandemic. We found hundreds of thousands of dollars in aid — millions in some cases — going to businesses linked to members of both political parties.
To be fair, all payouts found by Crosscut appear to be correctly eligible for the programs they are intended for. Officials and applicants told us that federal aid, particularly Paycheck Protection Program loans, has provided a critical lifeline during the pandemic’s economic downturn. State officials also noted that because the programs were administered at the federal level, they had no influence over awards and had to apply independently like anyone else.
Many who spoke to Crosscut said they supported transparency on federal aid, but added that if we could track payments, then the process was already transparent.
It wasn’t that simple.
While officials and candidates must file financial disclosure reports on their business interests to guard against conflicts of interest, many forms of COVID-19 stimulus do not appear to fall under reporting requirements. There is no centralized place for the public to check how much or what types of relief their officials have received.
To find the payments for our story, Crosscut compared a sample of government-owned or candidate-owned businesses from their disclosure reports with public lists of federal relief payments. These searches often resulted in matches for incorrect companies with similar names. Some research has turned up different payouts based on punctuation. Other results list payments that were declined.
The results also left out state or local stimulus programs and federal programs that did not release detailed payment data.
You can help us fill some of these gaps. If you want to try your hand at this somewhat tedious matching process, you can check out the how-to guide at the end of our story and enter your findings into our nine-question survey. Those survey responses feed into a centralized spreadsheet that could help provide deeper insight into the kind of relief officials have received across the state.
To learn more about our efforts to deepen federal stimulus spending in Washington, sign up for our new monthly newsletter Crosscut Investigates to keep up to date with reporting strategies, public data tools, and related surveillance coverage. other regional newsrooms.