--2 Congressional Campaign Finance Reporting 101
Aug. 23, 2017

Congressional Campaign Finance Reporting 101

May 5, 2010, 12:00 am
By Corey Pein
The new issue of SFR has a big crazy chart on where Republican Congressional candidates Tom Mullins and Adam Kokesh are pulling their financial support.

Would-be muckrakers who try finding their campaign finance information on the New Mexico Secretary of State's new Campaign Finance Information System will come up dry. That's because the candidates in US House and Senate races file reports with the same agency that tracks Presidential campaign money: the Federal Election Commission.

Unfortunately, while the FEC website is full of historical and up-to-date information, it's not exactly easy to navigate. To make matters worse, many FEC pages don't identify second or third donations to a candidate from the same source, adding obstacles to the long slog toward reportorial accuracy.

That's why the Center for Responsive Politics' campaign finance site, OpenSecrets.org, is so handy.

The CRP folks give bird's-eye overviews of specific races—here's the page for New Mexico's 3rd Congressional District—and allow for highly refined searches by donor or recipient. They also analyze donations by industry and interest group, making it much easier to see where politicians find their backing.

There's one problem with OpenSecrets: It takes the site some time to upload and organize the latest data for each race. So to report the campaign finance story for the 3rd District race, SFR relied on both OpenSecrets and the FEC website, which has the most current information.

What follows is a brief guide to the basic functions of the FEC's extensive databases.

Start by clicking on the "campaign finance reports" link at FEC.gov:

You'll see a bunch of options. If you want to look at PDFs of the candidates' reports, use the "view images" search. Our purposes will be served by the first option: "Search the Disclosure Database." Assuming you know which candidate you want to click up, click on "committee search" and punch in his or her name. Here's what you'll see next, using Kokesh as an example:

The rest is fairly self-explanatory. Click through to contributions by individual and you'll get a hyperlinked table showing everyone who donated to Kokesh, their address, occupation and so forth.

Copying and pasting this info into a database program like Excel can produce cleaner, more usable results than the FEC's downloadable reports, which I'll steer you to now.

From that initial search options page, click on "view/download electronic filings." The options are a little overwhelming, but once again, knowing a candidate's name should be enough to get you what you want.

The results, for view or download as the name suggests, are organized chronologically.

Cross-posted at Muckraker's Guide.


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