How Candidates Raise and Spend Money is Always Changing, Always Growing

By Chris Adams

The dramatic elections of 2016 and 2018 not only roiled the world of politics, they also upended the way candidates raise and spend money.

But one constant has been the prime organization that tracks those dollars: the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit research organization known for its widely used website,

In a session with Paul Miller fellows, the center’s executive director, Sheila Krumholz, detailed how much money comes in and goes out, as well as how reporters can track it.

Those campaign dollars have been rising sharply in recent years.

Although the fame and celebrity of Donald Trump meant he was able to rewrite campaign finance norms in 2016, money still is a dominating factor in elections.

“We are the first to acknowledge that money is not everything. But it is important,” Krumholz said. “If you don’t reach a threshold, you cannot field a viable campaign. Money can be decisive, especially in a close race.”

Money in recent years has skyrocketed, driven both by the surge in small donations and by big so-called “dark money” that is not disclosed. Although Trump won the 2016 election, Bernie Sanders running for the Democratic nomination also rewrote campaign finance rules with his massive small-donor army.

Krumholz documented for fellows the trends in campaign donations and the surge in campaign spending. She also discussed how reporters can track the money at the center’s website. That includes tracking contributions, lobbying data and personal finance data, including net worth, for lawmakers.

The center in 2019 also unveiled a new project looking at the intersection of gender, race and money in politics. It combines fundraising data reported to the Federal Election Commission with identity information the center collected for every federal candidate in the 2018 cycle.

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