If you grew weary of the American presidential campaign of 2016, you’re in for a bumpy ride in 2018. The midterm elections are upon us, and it’s hard to read any newspaper or watch a news program without hearing about the battle between Candidate X and Candidate Y. Many pundits are calling it the most important midterm elections in recent history.
What does this mean for investigators?
Unlike public funding provided for campaigns in many other countries, campaigns in the U.S. are driven by big money. In 2010 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United v Federal Election Commission that independent political donations by corporations, non-profits, and unions are protected under the First Amendment. According to the Center for Responsive Politics–a non-partisan, independent non-profit whose mission is tracking money in U.S. politics and its effect on elections and public policy–this ruling has opened a flood-gate of political contributions nationwide, making the last midterm election cycle in 2014 the most expensive on record: $3.77 billion.
2018 is bound to be just as pricey, and there will be candidates and factions looking to dig up dirt on their opponents. Who is in the pocket of whom is an inquiry that might come to you.
Where to look?
Information on political donations is regulated under the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1974 (FECA). A political donation record includes the donor’s financial position (if contributing large amounts of money), date, occupation, residential address, and the candidate or Political Action Committee (PAC) that received the contribution.
OpenSecrets.org is an arm of the Center for Responsive Politics. This comprehensive database tracks donations by individuals, PACs, corporations, non-profits, unions, and industries. If you’ve ever donated to a political candidate, you’re sure to find your name listed. If you are interested in a particular donor, click the Menu Tab on the homepage, then the Donor Lookup tab. You will be taken to a new page, where you can enter the name of the person you are investigating. A compilation of donations, which you can download as a CSV file, will appear.
If you are interested in a particular Congressional candidate, you can enter the person’s name on CRP’s Congressional Races page. You will be directed to a new page, which shows the race she/he is in and how much all candidates have based received on the most recent Federal Election Commission filings. Click on the person of interest, and you will be taken to the candidate’s main information page, which includes data on contributions from industries, PACs, individuals, etc.
The Federal Election Commission’s website also contains a searchable database. To search for a donor through the FEC, select Campaign Finance Data on the homepage for a dropdown menu with individual contributions. Advanced searches provide additional identifiers like state, occupation, or time period. If an individual or organization has made a contribution, you will see the name, address used, amount donated, when they donated, and to whom they donated.