Center for Responsive Politics
My all-time favorite tracking tool for campaign spending is OpenSecrets.org, run by the Center for Responsive Politics.
Their search engine could use some work, but the information is generally there for those willing to dig a little deeper.
Here are some of the things that you can find.
- Which groups are the biggest political spenders in U.S. federal politics?
- Who are the biggest contributors to my Congressman, Sam Farr over his career?
- Who are the top-spending Political Action Committees (PACs) in the 2010 election and how are they spending their money?
- Who are the top-spending 527 committees in the 2010 election and where do they get their money?
- Who were the top individual donors during the 2008 election and where did they spend their money?
- Who or what organizations are funding a specific 527 committee?
Influence Explorer is a great tool courtesy of the Sunlight Foundation. It doesn't provide as much detail as OpenSecrets.org, but it's a great starting point to see overall spending and relationships.
The MAPLight.org web site is another great resource. I find it particularly useful for tracking Californian politicians, my home state. Here are some of the things that I can find using MAPLight.
- What are the top political interests contributing to my California Assemblyman, Bill Monning?
- Who are the top donors to Bill Monning?
- By default, MAPlight only shows current year donations. However, with the search engine, you can dig deeper and into prior years.
Influence Tracker is a fun tool courtesy of Wired Magazine, MAPLight, and OpenSecrets.org. Enter the name of a federal-level politician, last name first. It then creates a web page showing the contributions to the politician and (my personal favorite), a NASCAR-like shirt with the logos of the largest contributors.
The text box in the lower left corner includes code so that you can embed the result in your own website. Here's an example screen capture for Harry Reid, who is running for U.S. Senate in Nevada.
Don't confuse Influence Tracker with Influence Explorer listed above.
National Institute on Money in State Politics
FollowTheMoney.org is another good site that is very complementary to OpenSecrets.org, which focuses primarily on national races.
I find the CampaignMoney.com site itself difficult, but it often comes up during Google searches. It only shows contributions to a campaign, and not spending with a PAC or a 527 committee.
I find it easiest to enter a search string directly in the browser address field. For example, here is a search for George Soros spending during the current election cycle. This gives you the general pattern.
ElectionTrack.com is a great resource for tracking campaign spending in California. It's fairly simplistic, but timely and easy.
For example, I used the specific page on those funding Yes on Proposition 27 to write a recent article revealing how the donors supporting Proposition 27 are well-connected to a single political party. It's easy to search for a specific donor or amount.
Federal Election Commission (FEC)
The Federal Election Commission web site is the ultimate resource for tracking federal elections spending, including PACs and 572s.
- Click the Campaign Finance and Data link.
- Then, click Search the Disclosure Database link.
- You can search for donations from a specific individual.
- You can search for a Political Action Committee (PAC). For example, here is the search result for "Patriotic Majority PAC" for a recent article about this fake Tea Party group.
California Secretary of State
The ultimate resource for tracking campaign spending in California is the Secretary of State's office. Likely, there are similar sites for other states.
For example, I needed historical data on those funding opposition to 2005's Proposition 77, a previous attempt at redistricting reform.
The Huffington Post FundRace tool is another tracking tool for campaign donations. It has some relatively good top-level tracking tools on where money is going by occupation and city.
Here's an oldie but goodie from NPR dated from 2008. NPR has had some good journalism about "shadow money" (examples here and here), but I do have some concerns about possible corrupting influence going forward due to the Soros/Open Society Foundation investment.
"Who's Who: Key Leaders Of Independent Groups", September 2008.