One way to sneakily learn more about someone’s politics and the issues they truly care about is to figure out which campaigns they’ve backed financially. Sometimes you’ll find unexpected surprises or learn that where someone puts their money isn’t always just about party affiliation. Or you may discover that an organization that professes certain values votes differently with its dollars.
If you want to know whether (and how much) your family member, neighbor, employer or favorite company has contributed to various political candidates, you can easily find this information by searching publicly available financial disclosure records.
Here are the best tools for the job.
How to track donations to national campaigns
All Senate, House and presidential candidates (and any committees that are authorized to raise money for them) have to report campaign donations to the Federal Election Commission.
The FEC has a searchable donor database that lets you browse donors by recipient or contributor and further narrow your results by zip code, donor occupation, contribution amount and more.
Poring over the FEC reports can feel a little overwhelming, though. Another, more manageable option is the nonprofit, nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks money in U.S. elections and politics and compiles detailed reports on spending by lobbyists, political action committees (PACs), interest groups and other donors.
The center’s website, OpenSecrets.org, has a searchable campaign donation database that tells you which campaigns or candidates a donor has contributed to. You can also use the advanced search option to sort by recipient instead, or narrow your results by campaign cycle and the donor’s home state.
Another way to browse contributions is with the Center’s Get Local! tool. Select the candidate’s state from the drop-down menu, then use the tabs to pull up reports by donor, candidate, metro area and more. The same tool has a zip code search, allowing you to narrow the list of donations to just your neighborhood.
How to track donations to state and local campaigns
The FEC and OpenSecrets.org track federal campaigns and candidates only (though you can also use them to see donations to political parties and PACs). If you want to know who has donated to a state or local campaign, you’ll need to head over to the National Institute on Money in Politics.
Using the NIMP’s website, FollowTheMoney.org, isn’t quite as intuitive, but there are a couple of ways to browse and search. One is to scroll down to the map and select the state you’re interested in; that will open a new tab with a state overview, and from there you can select the office type (gubernatorial, for example) to narrow in on donation details for specific races.
Another option is to scroll past the map to the Tools section and use the drop-down menus to select your state and election cycle. Finally, try entering a name into the main search bar—this will bring up an individual’s contributions and, if they’re also a candidate, detail the money they’ve received.
If you can’t find what you’re looking for on FollowTheMoney, you can go directly to your state’s campaign finance or election commission website to search disclosure forms.
There are also state-based organizations, like the Virginia Public Access Project, that track money in local elections. A quick Google search along the lines of “campaign disclosures [state]” should help you track down these groups if they exist in your area.