Learn What Public Political Contributions are and How to Access Them
The election campaigns involve massive expenditures on various fronts like advertising, canvassing, and posting signs. Political parties raise funds for these from either private or public sources. Public political contributions are the funds that are sourced from the government and are available to Presidential election candidates during the primaries and the general elections.
The campaign contributions from the government can be of various forms: direct subsidies given to the political parties to price exemption when using government services like the postal services.
The federal campaign finance guidelines laid down by the Federal Election Commission (FEC), require that political parties, candidates, and campaign committees disclose the money they have raised from public and private political campaign contributions. They must also disclose detailed reports of how they have spent these political contributions. The FEC posts these details on their official web site and individuals can access data on public political contributions of various parties or candidates in the electoral race.
Accessing Campaign Finance Data
The information about public political contributions is stored at FEC’s official web site. You can search either by a candidate’s name or his/her party or by the name of the committee or the individual who has extended these campaign donations. These links are available at http://www.fec.gov/finance/disclosure/disclosure_data_search.shtml.
The images of all financial reports filed by the various political parties or individual electoral candidates are available at http://www.fec.gov/finance/disclosure/imaging_info.shtml. These reports include details about the amount of money raised from private and public political contributions, the various loans received for and during electoral campaigns, and all expenditures associated with the political campaign. These reports also contain details like the name of the individual or the government agency that has made the contribution.
If sifting through copious volumes of financial information seems too much of a bother, you can also look up the summaries of financial reports, by a particular candidate or a political party. A request to view this report can be made at http://www.fec.gov/finance/disclosure/srssea.shtml. These summarized financial reports are arranged according to election cycles and contain information about the various private and public political contributions received by a candidate or a party.
In recent times, the FEC has made it possible to download electronically filed reports containing information on public political contributions. The various reports in their downloadable formats are listed at http://www.fec.gov/data/ and can be downloaded in csv or xml formats. These reports are available from the year 1997 to the present.
Using Campaign Finance Data
The reports and summaries of various private and public political contributions hosted at the FEC official web site can be viewed and copied by one and all. Federal laws, however, dictate that the names and addresses of individual contributors cannot be sold to third party agencies or used for commercial purposes.
The public political contributions are hailed as a means of ensuring clean elections. In fact, in recent years, the thrust has been to lean more on public political contributions than private funding. This reduces the chances of corruption within the corridors of power. Making reports of private and public political contributions generally available to all is thus a welcome transparency measure.