By Chris Adams
From soft money to 527 organizations to super PACs, the ways that big-money donors give to their favored candidates constantly change. One organization that has helped journalists make sense of all that money is the Center for Responsive Politics and its widely-used website, OpenSecrets.org.
Sheila Krumholz, the center’s executive director, detailed for Paul Miller fellows how much money comes in and goes out – and how reporters can track it at OpenSecrets.
“We are in different, uncharted territory,” Krumholz said of the money rush in recent years.
The total spending on elections has jumped from about $3 billion to more than $6 billion in the last 16 years (from the 2000 cycle through 2016). During that time, well north of 90 percent of U.S. House incumbents got reelected, and for U.S. Senate incumbents it was more than 80 percent.
Among the biggest changes has been outside spending by independent groups, primarily super PACs; such spending topped $1.1 billion in 2016.
OpenSecrets allows reporters – and the public in general – to see the spending by each of those entities. While there are so-called “dark money” donors who don’t have to be disclosed, such contributions are dwarfed by all the documented spending.
Among the money tracked at the website:
__Traditional campaign contributions for presidential and congressional races.
__Lobbying data, showing totals by election cycle for expenditures and allowing users to drill into specific industries and companies.
__Nonprofit data, which can allow users to track money spent by outside – purportedly independent – entities working in support of candidates. One example of the work such nonprofits do is a story by the center on a politically active nonprofit that supported Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla.) failed 2016 presidential bid.
__Personal finance data – including net worth – for lawmakers.