Campaign Finance Transparency

by Jennifer L. Crull

As we are all very aware, it is campaign time in Iowa, and as a swing state we are enjoying the three-ring circus with all the marketing directed at us. But this month we are going to revisit the FollowtheMoney.org Website and take a look at a new Website, OpenSecrets.org. This will allow us to share updated information about campaign contributions in our state. These two Websites allow us to look at the dollars spent at both the state and federal level. It also allows us to see the dollars that are coming into our state and how it affects election outcomes.

Back in October of 2010, the Iowa Transparency Newsletter brought you an article about the FollowtheMoney.org Website. This Website was created by the National Institute on Money in State Politics, and it is a “nonpartisan, nonprofit organization revealing the influence of campaign money on state-level elections and public policy in all 50 states.”[1] This Website is designed to encourage more transparency of campaign contributions to the public.[2]

For the current election cycle, there has been $8,342,188 donated to state-level campaigns thru July 19, 2012.[3] That includes only candidates for statewide elections, such as Senate, House, Supreme Court, and Appellate Court.[4] As you will remember we have all 100 seats in the House and 26 seats in the Senate up for reelection. Additionally, we have four members of the Supreme Court and three members of the Appellate Court up for retention.

By clicking on the Explorer tab, you can choose State Overview. Once you choose Iowa for 2012, you are then on the Overview tab. Table One shows you the top 15 industries that have contributed to state-level campaigns in Iowa. As you will see, the top two industries are the General Trade Unions and Public Sector Unions. As you can see, those two organizations have donated over $730,000 to candidates.[5]

If you then click on the Candidates tab, this will provide you with a list of all candidates who have run for office during this election cycle. By clicking on any candidate, you can see everyone who has contributed to his or her campaign based on the reports filed so far. You will also know if a candidate is behind in filing reports on campaign disclosure.[6] If you choose a specific donor and click on that name, you then see details about all the candidates who this person or organization has given money to during this campaign cycle.

I would suggest that you take the time to check out the candidates running for state office in your area. See where they are getting the money for their campaign and if you agree with the sources of the money. Also check out organizations you belong to and see if they are giving money to candidates you support or candidates you don’t support. Make your voice heard by arming yourself with the knowledge to argue your point of view.

The next Website we are looking at is OpenSecrets.org. This Website was created by The Center for Responsive Politics in Washington, D.C. The mission of the OpenSecrets.org Website is “to create a more educated voter, an involved citizenry, and a more transparent and responsive government.”[7] This Website is dedicated to looking at donations at the federal campaign level.

By clicking on the Politicians & Elections tab, a drop-down menu appears and allows you to select Get Local! You can then select the state of Iowa or enter your zip code. For this newsletter, we are looking at the state of Iowa. From this point you have the ability view a Summary as well as Delegation, Candidates, Donors, Industry, Geography, Presidential, and Other Data. The data for the state that is included in this Website is donations to candidates for the U.S. House, U.S. Senate, and the Presidential campaigns.[8]

Tables Two and Three include data from the Candidates tab. Table Two points out the amount of money raised from inside the state, and Table Three shows the amount of money raised from outside the state of Iowa. As you can see, Bruce Braley and Christie Vilsack are the two largest recipients of outside money, with both of them raising over $800,000 each.[9] If you are wondering where this money is coming from, that data is included in Table Four.

When you click on the Donor tab, this allows you to explore the donors for the candidates at the federal level. The Industry tab allows you to look at the top industries giving money to candidates. Next is the Geography tab. This allows you to see donations by metro area, zip code, and by county. You can also refine your search within each of those areas.[10]

The Presidential tab shows the data concerning donations to the Presidential Campaigns for the state and for the metro areas across the state. Table Five includes the donation totals so far on a statewide basis for candidates that ran for President. The last tab is Other Data. This includes the information about money transfers from national parties and all federally registered party committees to Iowa. This amount is $4,592,414, with 89 percent going to Democrats and 11 percent going to Republicans.[11]

As you take the time to review these two Websites, you will be amazed at the amount of money being donated in the state and money coming into our state! It shows how global our political process is, with many people outside our state being large stakeholders in the outcome of our state elections. It is important to know where this money is coming from and what the intended outcome from the donation is. Take the time to be an informed voter and learn about where all this campaign money is coming from and why!

Endnotes
[1] “About the Institute: Mission & History,” Follow the Money, <http://www.followthemoney.org/Institute/index.phtml?PHPSESSID=a4daf5af3a27ba1ff49715 62ed9bdf0b> accessed on October 5, 2012.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Follow the Money, <http://www.followthemoney.org/database/state_overview.phtml?s=IA&y=2012> accessed on October 5, 2012.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] “Iowa 2012 Candidates,” Follow the Money, <http://www.followthemoney.org/database/StateGlance/state_candidates.phtml?s=IA&y=201 2> accessed on October 5, 2012.
[7] “About Us,” The Center for Responsive Politics, <http://www.opensecrets.org/about/index.php> accessed on October 5, 2012.
[8] “Iowa Data,” The Center for Responsive Politics, <http://www.opensecrets.org/states/summary.php?cycle=2012&state=IA> accessed on October 4, 2012.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Ibid.

IOWA TRANSPARENCY NEWSLETTER is a monthly newsletter reporting on government transparency in our state.

IOWA TRANSPARENCY NEWSLETTER is published by Public Interest Institute at Iowa Wesleyan College, a nonpartisan, nonprofit, research and educational institute whose activities are supported by contributions from private individuals, corporations, companies, and foundations. The Institute does not accept government grants.

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