Follow the money

Tools for Wisconsin reporters covering state and federal races

This handout was prepared for a Sept. 28 presentation in Madison sponsored by the Wisconsin Newspaper Association.

Tutorial online at


Primary data: Government Accountability Board:
Campaign Finance Information System:
The CFIS site goes to mid-2008; use link below for earlier filings

User tips:
1) All records are filed under committee name, not candidate or group name
2) From any CFIS category, hit “Expand” on left-hand side of screen to return to main menu
3) Watch for and remove the automatic selection of single filing periods
4) Download data as CSV file; save as Excel file to preserve formatting changes

What follows is a list of CFIS categories, and examples of searches that can be done:

A. View Registrants
Choose registrant types: PACs, conduits, recalls, state candidates, corporations, etc.
Check registrant status: Current (active), terminated (inactive)

B. View filed reports
Choose filing year, registrant name
Search for reports under “Filing period name”; best method for getting latest info

C. View Receipts
Choose contribution type, date range, receiving registrant, out-of-state
Important tip: Clear or change “Filing period” field (see “Please note” at top of page)
Download (and name) CSV file, highlight desired column, and use menu on bottom bar to select measure – sum, count, average. Use “Data” and “Sort” for info fields
Bonus: Receipts function can be used to research individual contributors

D. View Expenses
Enter registrant name, de-select “Filing period name”
Can search by campaign and “Expense purpose”
Note comment field on downloaded files

E. View Conduit Contributions
Enter conduit name, de-select “Filing period name”

Other useful GAB campaign finance sites:
For “Limits and deadlines”:
For pre-2008 data:
Select a candidate, download reports

GAB Eye on Lobbying:
Check for bill text, status (includes fiscal estimates), cost and hours
Can do searches by filing period under “Complete lobbying effort”; go to organization, then printable, then “Totals and certification”)

Other sites for state campaign finance data

Wisconsin Democracy Campaign databases (all under “Follow the Money”):
Searchable database for candidate contributions: (Under:
Candidate profiles (under “Follow the Money):
Interest group spending:

MapLight Wisconsin:
Resource tracking contributions to state legislators, tied to votes on bills
Can search by bills, legislators, interest groups, contributions, companies, or topics

National Institute on Money in State Politics:
National overview map:
Allows for checks on total spending; good for state comparisons. Wisconsin-specific data:
Tracks both state and federal races, but totals do not include independent expenditures and are not always up to date
Individual state legislative districts:


Primary data: Federal Election Commission:
The FEC’s website is the primary source for campaign finance reports for candidates, political parties and political action committees. You can either look up reports or download the data.

Summary reports: (enter candidate, party or PAC name; perimeters can be changed: cycle, state, House, etc.)

Electronically filed reports:
Mark “Wisconsin,” then “House,” then “Report type.” Put in monthly or quarterly.

Senate reports, filed on paper:

Search for individual donors by name:

FEC data by state:
Search under “Hot Topics” at right or “Maps” in column on left

Independent expenditures:
Hit “Independent expenditure search” — middle button — for daily reports and to find individual reports; go to map (left column) to get maps for races by type: Senate, House, etc.
Senate map:
House map:
Reported state and congressional district totals may contain duplicate information and thus not be reliable. Check actual listings and remove “N” filings that have been replaced by “A1” and “A2”; see columns Q and U. This is what sites like Open Secrets do in culling their data.

Single best tip on this sheet: FEC media staff are terrific. Call 800-424-9530; Ex. 1 for media.

Other sites for national data:

Open Secrets / Center for Responsive Politics (good source for federal races):
This site tracks federal campaign contributions by candidate and race
Go to Politicians and Elections and select from options menu: “Congressional elections,” “Personal Finances,” “Outside Spending”; Outside spending field nicely tags groups as PACs, super PACs, 501(c)s.
Donor searches can be done by individual name, by state, and by employer
What the center uniquely does is classify contributions by company and business interest

Wall Street Journal Super PAC tracker:
Select individual super PACs or candidates for more detailed information

Washington Post presidential ad tracker:
Great site for tracking actual spending on ads in each media market
WP national presidential electoral map:
WP campaign finance data:

State-by-state list of disclosure offices:
Maintained by the National Institute on Money in State Politics, this is a repository of links to disclosure offices in all 50 states regarding campaign finance, lobbying and ethics data. It is NOT easy to find on the group’s website, so use this link and bookmark.

This website seeks to shine a light on the relationship between Money And Politics (MAPlight, get it?). It tracks how donations by interest groups correlate to the votes taken by specific lawmakers on specific bills. The site is set up to track congressional legislation as well as bills in Wisconsin and California. Searches can be done by bills, legislators, interest groups, contributions, companies and topics.

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