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Investigative Journalism

Campaign Finance Overview

Campaign finance refers to the ways in which any type of political campaign is funded. This can be a campaign for a politician, political party, or in support for/opposition of a specific policy or referendum. Campaign funds can be donated from members of the public or from the private sector.

There are federal (and state) regulations that dictate the parameters in which political campaigns can accept and use the money they receive. Federal campaign law covers three areas (from FEC website): public disclosure of funds raised and spent to influence an election; restrictions on contributions + expenditures; public financing of presidential campaigns.

Introductory Resources

An important aspect of researching campaign finance is gathering raw data on campaign contributions. All campaigns are required to disclose  information on all donations they receive and spend, as part of the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA). Use the following resources to gather information on campaign contributions for presidential and congressional elections.

Federal Election Commission The FEC is “the independent regulatory agency charged with administering and enforcing the federal campaign finance law.” The FEC website provides great overviews of the Federal Election Campaign Act, which established the FEC, as well as information on the history of the FEC and its role in regulating campaign contributions.

Opposing Viewpoints​ Use this page to find a whole range of sources that can help introduce you to the issue of campaign finance and some of the current discussions being held on the topic (eg. useful starting resource); includes recent news stories, articles from academic journals, audiovisual sources, etc.

CQ Researcher The CQ Researcher provides reports on some of today’s current issues. Under the “Browse Topics” bar on the homepage, select either “U.S. Congress” or “U.S. Presidency” and then choose the “Campaign Finance” subtopic to read recent reports on the current debates surrounding campaign finance and campaign finance reform.

Campaign Finance Data

MapLight: U.S. Congress Campaign Contributions and Voting Database: Nonpartisan research organization which demonstrates the influence money has on politics.  Users are able to view data regarding sources of campaign contributions from U.S. federal, congressional, state, and local elections.  Transparency tools connect data on politicians, industries, campaign contributions, legislative votes, and companies to depict the patterns of influence.

State Disclosure Offices: Candidates file campaign finance reports with their disclosure agency.  Here, that information is collected for all candidates in the primary and general elections and made into a searchable database.

The Campaign Finance Institute (CFI): An independent think-tank that focuses on campaign finance at both the federal and state level. Unlike the FEC, which focuses only on federal elections, the CFI provides detailed campaign finance data for federal and state elections. You can also find information on state, federal, and international campaign finance laws and current CFI research initiatives.

FEC Campaign Finance Disclosure Portal​ As part of its mission, the FEC is required to disclose campaign finance information to the public. The FEC Campaign Finance Portal allows you to search for and download data sets on campaign contributions for all presidential and congressional elections, as well as organization data on Political Action Committees (PACs) and registered lobby groups.

Opensecrets.org The Center for Responsive Politics is an independent, non-profit organization that tracks campaign spending in federal elections. In addition to providing campaign finance data for current federal elections, the Center for Responsive Politics also provides spending information for lobby and interests groups and PACs.

Laws and Regulations

FEC The FEC’s website provides a complete overview of the main bill that has shaped campaign finance, the Federal Election Campaign Act, as well as information on its legislative history and related amendments that have altered FECA regulations on campaign finance.

ProQuest Congressional Allows you to search for congressional and presidential documents, with the option to search by keyword. Search for congressional bills, laws, resolutions, and more that address campaign finance.

Federal Digital System (FDsys) This provides free access to government publications from all 3 branches of the government.  You can do a general search for the phrase “campaign finance” to view congressional reports, bills, supreme court opinions, and presidential papers.