How to Find Out If Your Neighbor Is Donating to a Politician

Photo (cc) by free pictures of money

Have you ever wondered about who all those people are who give money to political candidates? Do you speculate about whether neighbors, friends, relatives or co-workers have pledged money to any campaigns?

Turns out the answers are at your fingertips. That’s because several free tools are available online, thanks to organizations that seek to help improve the transparency of political campaign financing.

What follows is a breakdown of the tools that enable you to look up specific individuals and find out whether they’ve donated to politicians — and, if so, how much money they gave to which politicians and when.

U.S. Federal Election Commission

The FEC is an independent regulatory agency of the federal government. It’s tasked with administering and enforcing the laws that govern the financing of federal elections.

All candidates for the presidency, U.S. House and U.S. Senate must report the details of their campaign finances to the FEC on a regular basis throughout their run for office.

The FEC publishes that data online publicly, but so much information is available via the FEC’s Campaign Finance Disclosure Portal that it can be overwhelming and challenging to navigate, especially for laypeople.

Fortunately, the website’s Individual Contributor Search tool makes it easy to dig into donor data.

You simply enter a person’s name — in the blank boxes at the bottom of the page — and click on the gray “Send Query” button. You can also enter other information — such as a city or ZIP code — to narrow down the results if the person has a common name.

If that person has donated to any federal political campaigns since 1997, the details will be listed.

You can even enter just a city or ZIP code, for example, to see a listing of every donor within a city or ZIP code, although that could yield a long list of results.

Center for Responsive Politics

The Center for Responsive Politics, often referred to as Open Secrets or OpenSecrets.org, is a nonprofit research group devoted to tracking money in U.S. politics.

The center’s Donor Lookup tool is similar to the FEC tool. However, the center’s tool allows you to select how you want search results to be sorted, such as by donation dates or amounts.

The center’s Get Local! tool breaks down a variety of donation data about each state and each ZIP code. For example, if you select a state, you can click on the “Donors” tab to view a list of the top contributors in the state.

National Institute on Money in State Politics

The National Institute on Money in State Politics, also known as Follow the Money or FollowTheMoney.org, is another nonprofit research group.

But while the Center for Responsive Politics focuses on the federal level, the institute focuses on the state level, boasting that its database includes data on all state-level candidates.

The institute’s Ask Anything! tool can be a little trickier to navigate compared with the previously mentioned tools, but that’s because it allows for more complex searches — such as searching for multiple donors at once — and more options for how the results are displayed.

Here are the basic steps:

  1. Click on the red “Start here” button.
  2. Click on the red “Contributions FROM…” button.
  3. Click on the “specific contributor” option.
  4. Enter a donor name.
  5. Click on the red “Go!” button.
  6. Choose from the many visualization options. (If you’re unsure where to start, begin by checking just the “Record” box next in the row labeled “Contributor’s Info.”)

State regulatory agencies for campaign financing

Just as the FEC is the agency to which federal candidates must report specific campaign financing information, each state has an agency to which state-level candidates must disclose such information.

Some of those state agencies make that data available to the public online and some don’t — although it’s considered public information, which means you can always request to view campaign finance documents in person at the agency’s office or request copies, sometimes for a nominal fee.

For example, in Florida, where Money Talks News is headquartered, the relevant state agency is the Division of Elections, which is part of the Department of State. The division’s website does have a Campaign Finance Database tool, which can be searched for contributors.

In another state, you’d have to ask the agency or poke around its website to find out if it offers such a tool. Check the National Institute on Money in State Politics’ Government Disclosure Agencies page for the name and website of every state’s campaign finance regulatory agency.

What’s your take on political campaign financing? Sound off in our Forums. It’s the place where you can speak your mind, explore topics in-depth, and post questions and get answers.

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