Resource Center


With the 2012 presidential election campaign well underway, you'll want to access this story pack for all things campaign finance related. From campaign contributions to political action committees (PACs) we've provided lots of helpful stories and tipsheets to help you get your story off the ground and onto the page. 
IRE's campaign 2012 coverage training was made possible through a grant from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.


Webinar: Follow The Money

There are several ways that political funds can play a role in key states, especially during an election year. In IRE's 2012 election coverage webinar from Derek Willis of The New York Times, you’ll see how to trace money that comes from outside sources to state-based political groups, and how to follow the path of expenditures from the ground game to the air wars. View the webinar below or see it in a new window by clicking here.


  • Money and Politics-Who's Giving
    This tipsheet is a detailed guide to finding out who is giving money to politicians and their staffers and why.

  • Investigating Politicians
    James Grimaldi of the Wall Street Journal covers basics for backgrounding politicians, but goes into depth about some of the things you should look for in their property records, etc. He also details how to explore their campaign finances and various lobbying and travel reports.

  • Investigating Political Influence
    Russ Baker, founder of provides a list of questions one should consider - and ask their sources - when covering influence at government agencies. Included are useful links for deciphering the puzzle of influence: lobbying disclosure forms; IRS filings and disclosures; earmark data; and much more.

  • Databases: Investigating Locally and Around the World
    David Donald of the Center for Public Integrity in this presentation explores the importance of a "data state of mind" for reporters. Beyond knowing FOIA laws, he outlines the (at least) 25 databases every newsroom should have and use in their reporting. The databases cover several different beats, and Donald details the value of each.

  • Social Network Analysis
    This presentation shows several examples of social network analysis. Aaron Kessler of 100 Reporters explores what social network analysis allows you to do in your reporting, and several topics - such as campaign finance and charity scams - that are ripe for such analysis

  • Tracing Money In Federal Politics
    Ronald Campbell of The Orange County Register details how to track federal campaign finance information. He identified the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as the "fountainheads of federal campaign data." Campbell gives an overview of the type of information available on these sites. And recommends searching the FEC site whenever you are backgrounding an individual.

Example Stories

  • Bloomberg's Offshore Millions/The Secret Campaign of Mayor Mike
    The two stories take an unprecedented look at Mayor Michael Bloomberg's finances. One story uncovers how Bloomberg used a loophole to invest charitable funds in overseas tax havens. The other story examines the questionable tactics of his secretive campaign effort called "ballot security."

  • The Mayor and the Money
    Campaign finance reports of the Shreveport Mayor suggested that the campaign finance laws had been broken. Anonymous contributions, multiple entries for the same donation, donors that circumvented laws on contribution limits, and donors with questionable backgrounds were found in the reports.

  • Getting Change
    Jarret Murphy of City Limits take a comprehensive review of 20 years of campaign finance reform in New York City and its impact on elections in the city. While aiding in avoiding campaign finance scandals, its done little to level the playing field for those running.

  • Secret Money Project
    The Center for Investigative Reporting and National Public Radio launched the "Secret Money Project" as a joint initiative to track the hidden money in the election season. In 2004, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth advertisements hurt Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry's campaign. In the 2008 presidential campaign, independent groups also did everything possible -- sometimes well under the radar -- to influence the election. Independent groups raised and spent tens of millions of dollars, unleashing attack ads, robocalls and direct mail across the country. Although NPR is best known as a radio network, the primary venue for the Secret MOney Project was The project Web site featured a blog of breaking news and analysis. It serves as a searchable database of independent groups and attack ads, which provided a real-time public resource during the election and will continue to be a research tool that can shed light on future political races.

    The series of stories explores the effect of the Republican sweep in 2002 of the Texas state government and the controversy behind the funding that got them there. This three year investigation was part of Tom DeLay's downfall, and led criminal investigations and civil lawsuits against the state's largest business organization.

  • Money and Politics
    A year-long investigation into the role of Tennessee campaign contributions in Tennessee politics, and how candidates used these contribution funds. The Times found that candidates filed inaccurate disclosure reports and that there was little to no examination of the documents. They also took a look at Tennessee money in federal elections, and found that local races were not competitive, and that Republicans in particular were funneling contributions to out-of-state candidates.


  • Federal Campaign Contributions
    Please note this is only the data that comes from the Federal Elections Commissions FTP server, cleaned up. This dataset does not include electronic disclosures, which may be more up to date than the information on the FTP server, but have not gone through the same vetting process as the FTP data.

    This dataset is now available in three different formats: in comma-delimited text files, in dBase format and as a MySQL-friendly SQL batch file. See the readme for details.

    Information from the Federal Elections Commission shows campaign contribution information for all candidates seeking federal office and all federal political action committees. The database contains four tables, which include information about candidates and committees as well as individual contributor information and campaign contributions by PACs.

    The data contains the amount of each contribution given by the individuals and PACs. Some of the fields include the candidates name, party, address and district and the committees name and candidate ID number.

    NICAR provides the data in two ways: As a complete data set for each two-year cycle or a cycle subscription that is updated weekly. The updates consist of all of the data since the beginning of the cycle year.

Training Audio

  • Backgrounding candidates and truth-testing claims
    Learn how to use records to dig into the background of political candidates, from financial contributions to criminal histories and questionable business interests. Tips on the potential and pitfalls of fact-checking efforts, including how to identify good information from neutral sources.

  • Following the money
    From the White House to statehouses, here’s how to get the information you need to find out who’s pouring money into the process, how it’s being spent, and what do with the data once you’ve gotten it.

  • How healthcare and the other key issues are shaping the race
    A key component of understanding how campaigns are won or lost is understanding the role of special interests PACS and lobbies. This year healthcare and a few other key topics are playing a crucial role in who gets financial support and who gets opposition.

  • What's so super about PACS?
    Representatives of three of the most experienced money-in-politics organizations in Washington – the Center for Responsive Politics, the Sunlight Foundation and the Center for Public Integrity – will explain the new campaign finance landscape in the wake of the landmark Citizens United decision. They’ll cover what to look for when examining super PACs as well as more mysterious 501(c) groups that don’t disclose their donors (Colbert calls these “spooky PACs”). They’ll demonstrate valuable tools and data sources and suggest reporting techniques and story ideas for the general election.