IRE/NICAR Tipsheet No. 509


Jonathan D. Salant
Congressional Quarterly, Inc.

Ten Computer-Assisted Campaign Finance Stories You Can Do Quickly

1. The biggest givers in your community. Search the FEC database by state, locality, or ZIP code. Download the information and add the totals per person, making sure to remember that sometimes one person is listed under several versions of the same name.

2. Where is your lawmaker getting his or her money from? Download individual and PAC contributors from the FEC, and then sort by state or locality.

3. Committee assignments. Looking at political action committee contributions, see which industries gave the most money to your lawmakers. Don't be surprised if those industries are the ones affected by legislation moving through the committee your lawmaker sits on.

4. The new chairman. Look at all of the political action committees that have decided to give to your lawmaker once he or she becomes a committee or subcommittee chairman.

5. Switching sides. Download all of the PAC contributions from the defeated candidate in the last race. Then download all of the PAC contributions for the winning candidate in this race. Have the computer find the same givers. This works for open seat races or races where the incumbent lost.

6. The new friends. When lawmakers switch committee assignments or freshmen get them for the first time, contrast the makeup of PAC contributions before and after the move. Notice how the industries affected by the new committee immediately make contributions to the lawmaker in question.

7. Local PACs. Download PAC contributions from the industries in your area. Look at the people they're giving money to and why.

8. Votes. On a controversial issue, find out how much money your lawmakers received from the main lobbying groups. Don't be surprised if there's a correlation between money and votes.

9. Interest groups. When a major issue comes to the forefront, see if PAC contributions to your lawmakers have started to increase. This is done by downloading the most recent filings and the filings from the equivalent period in the last election cycle.

10. No PACs. Several lawmakers have refused to take contributions from PACs. Download their most generous individual contributors. Many of them represent the same interests that the PACs do.