How To Follow the Money


Despite 46.7 million people living in poverty, this country is drowning in money. That’s never so evident as in federal elections, and particularly the run for the Presidency. Many of us are now wondering: who is financing these campaigns, how much are they contributing, and who is tracking all that money.

The influx of Big Money in electoral campaigns burgeoned after the U.S. Supreme Court declared that corporations, unions and certain individuals are exempt from disclosure requirements in Citizens United. Non-human entities are now funneling huge sums into a candidate’s campaign with zero transparency or accountability  (“Dark Money”).

For a look at how this non-disclosure dynamic altered the political landscape through 2014, check out these Washington Post charts.

However, campaign disclosure is still required by the Federal Elections Commission in specific instances. This lets us track some of the campaign money, though we’re only looking at the tip of the iceberg.

This post will look at the primary tracking source, the Federal Elections Commission. Additional posts will describe non-governmental entities keeping an eye on campaign money.


fec_corner_logoThe Federal Elections Commission (FEC)

This is the official portal from which all other disclosure sites derive their data. Learning to navigate the FEC is time-consuming but it’s best to start with the “Campaign Finance Disclosure Portal” and select from one of four “Hot Topics” matching your interest. The “Candidate and Committee Viewer” opens a search screen, where you can input a candidate’s name and begin drilling down into all committees registered as fundraising entities for that individual candidate. Each is assigned an ID number. Opening one of these will bring you to the nitty-gritty.

For example, clicking the ID number for BERNIE 2016, reveals the overall information and the Financial Summary. Clicking on Itemized Individual Contributions will show a table with the names of donors, contribution amount and other information. Unfortunately, there is no Search function so this is not a recommended route. Back-up to the overall summary page. There are another two tabs at the top (Report Summaries and Filings). Either of these will make searching more manageable.

The Report Summaries is a record of filings by the campaign committee by month and Year-End. You can gather broad information at a glance. Or click on any hot link to delve further into the reports.

Filings brings up all official transmissions both to and from the FEC. A monthly RFAI (Request for Additional Information) contains specific requests from the FEC to the committee after an initial review. Often these ask for corrections, clarification and verification of contributor information. If an individual’s address is from outside the U.S., the FEC demands verification that they are citizens or legal residents. The commission also keeps an eye on contribution totals, and lets the committee know when someone has exceeded the limits.

A committee must answer these RFAIs by a specific date, and these are found in the Miscellaneous Report to FEC.

Each of these various communications can be opened and viewed and are public record.





  1. Now that Bernard’s 10 years worth of tax returns have been released, will you be vetting them? I could try, I guess we need to compare them to the financial disclosure reports?


    1. I don’t plan to spend as much time on BS this time around. I will be checking his FEC reports for donations from foreign nationals because this is a big deal and needs a lot of coverage. But he is getting a lot of vetting now, thankfully!


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