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Back to Tracker Summer 1998
New, Free and Online
Jack Dolan
The worst thing about trying to build a definitive campaign finance website is that every time you turn around the quality of data on the web improves. This headache for webmasters trying to keep up, however, is a windfall for reporters trying to follow the money.

An exceptional addition at the federal level is the Center for Responsive Politics' Candidate Profiles (http://www.crp.org). These summaries of each congressional candidate's finances allow you to compare incumbents and challengers on totals raised and spent, see how much each candidate raises inside and outside his home state, and find the metro areas and zip codes that give the most to each candidate.

The metro area and zip code searches allow you to cheat around the problem of isolating House districts. You can make a decent guess at the amount a House candidate raises out of district by summing contributions from all the zip codes that are definitely not inside the district. Until the FEC includes House District in the contributor information, or someone in the non-profit sector comes up with a program for assigning addresses to house districts, this is probably your best bet.

Each CRP profile also contains a breakdown of contributions by business, labor, and ideological groups using codes developed by the Center's Larry Makinson. An example from the CRP site: The biggest single block of contributors to Rep. Ike Skelton (D)-Missouri, a ranking member of the House National Security Committee, is Aerospace Defense contractors. Looking further into the "Top Contributors" section for Skelton it turns out that Northrop Grumman, Boeing, and Lockheed Martin are numbers one, two, and three respectively.

You can check a member's committee assignments and voting record online at Congressional Quarterly's free American Voter site (http://voter.cq.com) or at Vote-Smart (http://vote-smart.org).

On the state level, The National Institute for Money in State Politics joined the online data fray with twenty states. The Institute's data is especially valuable because, like data from the Center for Responsive Politics, contributor names are usually standardized and contributor economic and ideological interests are coded using slightly modified Makinson codes.

The Institute is the first compiler of state data to apply these techniques to data from more than a handful of states. The result is an online search engine that allows the same kind of summary analysis of contributors that is available on the federal level, a huge step forward in the effort to shine a light on state campaign finances.

One drawback of www.followthemoney.org is that you can't actually download any part of the database. Downloading data allows you to perform joins matching lists of state contract recipients, or corporate officers, against a list of contributors.

The CFIC is currently beta-testing its own online search engine. We will offer the most up-to-date data available from thirteen states to start with, adding more as data becomes available. The source data for each state is downloadable from the CFIC site in .dbf format, so users familiar with spreadsheets or database managers can do their own analyses.

Other sources for online campaign finance data include:

  • FEC (www.fec.gov) Download contribution data from the 1993, 1994, 1996, and 1998 election cycles.
  • Tony Raymond's FEC Info (www.tray.com/fecinfo) Search up-to-date FEC filings. An excellent alternative to downloading FEC files in most cases.
  • American University (www.soc.american.edu/campfin) Wendell Cochran breaks down FEC data by state. Allows you to download only data for local candidates. Also some good summaries of contributions by state.
  • Congressional Quarterly (www.cq.com/oddsmaker) Oddsmaker gives Vegas-style odds for congressional and gubernatorial races nationwide.
  • Congressional Quarterly's American Voter (http://voter.cq.com) Check a member's committee assignments and voting record online.
  • Campaign Finance Information Center (www.campaignfinance.org)
Downloadable data from 13 states and links to search engines in 12 others. Also more than 100 recent federal, state, and local news stories on the role of money in politics. The CFIC story library at (http://www.campaignfinance.org/stories/index.html) links to stories in which the reporter used campaign finance records as a significant source. If you can't find a story you are looking for, and know where it is on the web, send an email with the URL to cfic-comments@ire.org and we'll include it.

Jack Dolan - jack@nicar.org