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OpenSecrets: Your starting point for campaign finance stories

Although the midterm elections are only two weeks away, it’s not too late to contribute some campaign finance stories. If you aren’t sure where to begin, OpenSecrets can provide a little inspiration. It is a little more user-friendly than the Federal Election Commission’s (FEC) website, which also has a wealth of campaign finance information to explore.

OpenSecrets provides extensive details on how money flows in-to and out of campaigns while also contributing excellent reporting on the data candidates collect and manage. If you don’t already have the OpenSecrets website bookmarked, you should. Here are just a few things you can use their website for.

Ballot measure fundraising

OpenSecrets tracks most states’ ballot measure committees, whether for or against, and how much money they raise, including anyone that donates over $5,000 to that committee.

For example, in California there is a proposition on the ballot to legalize online and mobile sports betting, Prop 027. There are two committees that oppose the initiative and one that supports it. Each side has raised $100 million – by far the most money raised for any ballot measure in the state. Not surprisingly, for the supporting side, top donations have come from BetMGM, FanDuel, DraftKings, and Ballys.

What makes it more interesting is that one of the committees that opposes the bill is called “Yes on 26, No on 27” and is sponsored by various California Indian Tribes. Prop 026 would legalize sports betting at American Indian Gaming Casinos. Opponents to Prop 026 are other clubs and casinos in the state that are sponsoring the committee “Taxpayers against special interest monopolies.”

Search for individual donors

OpenSecrets has a donor lookup where you can see who individuals donated to, when they donated and how much. For example, searching through the available records we were able to discover that Michael Crow, the President of ASU, donated in his name exactly one time. In 2010, he donated $500 to an organization supporting Proposition 100, which was a special ballot initiative to temporarily raise sales taxes where the majority of the revenue went towards education.

In addition to names, you can search for donors by employer, zip code, occupation, and recipients. Interested in knowing where the employees of Ford are collectively donating their money? Or what about where professors are donating this election cycle? Curious about who’s donating to one of those ballot measures or a specific PAC? This tool can help.

The FEC has a similar tool that can give you even more information about individual donors as they appear to show some donations that are not listed on OpenSecrets and do not show some donations that are. Whether you are interested in candidates, business executives, or just curious about who your neighbor is donating to, these search tools can give you some data points to start with.

Financial disclosures

Lawmakers and other top officials are required to disclose their financial assets and interests every year. Since 2012 those disclosures are required to be available to the public online. OpenSecrets compiled records from 2008-2018 showing the richest and poorest members of Congress as well as the median estimated net worth of members. Although these disclosures can’t tell you everything, they do provide a small glimpse into the amount of wealth in Congress. As the website points out, 40-50% of congressional members are millionaires, compared to only 1% of the general U.S. population.

More recent records are available to the public through government websites. For the House of Representatives, recent disclosures can be found here and for the Senate here.

Additional areas of interest

Bulk data: Can’t get enough data? You can download compressed text files of raw data from government agencies.

Get Local: Narrow your search by state or zip code.

Outside spending:These are committees, groups, and PACs that are not directly connected to a campaign, including Dark Money groups.

Author

  • Julianne Culey

    Julianne is the Assistant Director of the Reynolds Center with expertise in marketing and communications and holds a master's in Sociology from Arizona State University.

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