Resources for Reporting on Super PACs


The Citizens United Supreme Court decision drastically altered the way the campaign finance game is played. The 2012 election was the dawn of the age of the Super PAC. Even post-election, we're still figuring out what that mean and who is influencing voters' decisions and how. The the local and national implications remain to be seen.
Journalists will continue to be called on to explain and inform their audiences about the various influences Super PACs have on local, state and national political races.
This page provides resources to assist journalists' investigation and understanding of Super PACs and other elements of campaign finance. These resources are provided as part of a Specialized Reporting Institute, "Investigating Super PACs," hosted by the Sunlight Foundation on April 21-22, 2012. The SRI was funded by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

Find an Expert

Bob Biersack, senior fellow, Center for Responsive Politics, 202-857-0044: Extremely knowledgeable about FEC and campaign finance

Sheila Krumholz, executive director, Center for Responsive Politics, 202-857-0044: Expert on areas of political influence, including lobbying, campaign finance, super PACs, personal financial disclosure of members of Congress and executive branch officials, and more

Paul Ryan, senior counsel, Campaign Legal Center, 202-736-2200: Specialist in campaign finance, ethics, and election law

Allen Dickerson, legal director, Center for Competitive Politics, 703-894-6800: oversees litigation efforts for this group that advocates for reduced regulation of campaign contributions and financing

John Dunbar, managing editor, iWatch, Center for Public Integrity, 202-466-1300: Expert in the old, pre-McCain–Feingold soft money system; the post-McCain–Feingold world of groups like Swift Boat Vets for Truth and MoveOn.org; and the current world of super PACs; an excellent source for both historical perspective and up-to-the-minute analysis

Ed Bender, executive director, National Institute on Money in State Politics, 406-449-2480: Follows campaign finance issues in all 50 states — 20 states have changed campaign finance laws as a result of Citizens United

Judy Ingram, Federal Election Commission, 202-694-1219: A great resource for explaining campaign finance law in plain English

Gabriela Schneider, communications director, Sunlight Foundation, 202-742-1520 ext. 236: Will connect you with the expert you need on policy, campaign finance, and more

Twitter Tags to Watch

@DBCapStrategies (Dan Backer): Super PAC lawyer who's pushing the limits on what PACs and super PACs can do

@SuperPACFilings (Wall Street Journal): A service of the Wall Street Journal that tweets the latest super PAC filings

@ElizaRules (Eliza Newlin Carney): The reporter who coined the phrase "super PAC" and who covers lobbying and influence at Roll Call

@FECupdates (Federal Election Commission): Latest news from the FEC

@rickhasen (Rick Hasen): PoliSci professor and election law specialist who closely follows court and campaign finance developments

Blogs to Follow

Rick Hasen's Election Law Blog: A must-read for all things campaign finance, run by a law professor who specializes in the area

Taegan Goddard's Political Wire: Covers much more than campaign finance

OpenSecrets Blog: Consistently turns out news, analysis and good ideas from its treasure trove of data

Consider the Source: Blog from the Center for Public Integrity; focus on money in politics

TechPresident.com: Follows the use of new technologies, including social media, by presidential campaigns and others

U.S. Politics on Facebook: Tracks campaigns and communications by politicos on Facebook; a good place to see the latest ads coming from campaigns

What Others Are Doing

Tester Has His Hands Full, Alex Sakariassen, Aug. 30, 2012

Highlights from a Webinar presented by the Sunlight Foundation's Bill Allison and Poynter's NewsU, June 20, 2012

In Race for Congress, Kilmer Cruises in Raising Campaign Cash, Steven Gardner, April 29, 2012

Citadel's Ken Griffin Supersizes Romney Support, April 2012

Key Resources

Federal Election Commission

Administration and enforcement of federal campaign finance laws

SCOTUS Blog on Citizens United

Straight from the oracle: Read the Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission decision, the full Supreme Court opinion, a summary of the case, briefs, analysis of the decision and more

Sunlight Foundation

Dedicated to making government transparent and accountable; resource for experts on policy and law regarding campaign finance and much more

Resources for Tracking and Understanding Campaign Finances

Center for Responsive Politics: A nonpartisan group that tracks money in U.S. politics and its effect on elections and public policy

Center for Competitive Politics: Advocates for reduced regulation of campaign contributions and financing; turn to this organization for insights into how political spending works in the post-Citizens United world

National Institute on Money in State Politics: Follows and maintains data on states' campaign finance laws; exceptionally eager to share information with journalists

Campaign Law Resources

Campaign Legal Center: Offers nonpartisan analyses of issues and represents the public interest in administrative, legislative and legal proceedings; provides updates and analysis on the latest developments in election law, ranging from disclosure required of nonprofit groups for electioneering communication under Van Hollen v. FEC to Montana's challenge to the Citizens United case

Journalism Resources

Center for Public Integrity: A nonprofit investigative news organization; publishes iWatch News, an online publication dedicated to investigative and accountability reporting

InfluenceExplorer.com: Brings together reams of state and federal campaign finance data, lobbying and other influence data, federal contracts and much more; the searchable database allows downloading data in Excel spreadsheet format

OpenSecrets.org's outside spending site offers data on spending by corporations, unions, Super PACs and other groups

ProPublica's Super PAC tracker

Sunlight Foundation's Follow the Unlimited Money Super PAC tracker

USAToday's political ad tracker compiles campaign ads from presidential and senate candidates and Super PACs

Wesleyan Media Project's political ad tracker; all political ads bought by Super PACs, parties, candidates, and others

Training

Live Chat

Poynter hosted a live chat May 24 with the Sunlight Foundation's Bill Allison and Joshua Hatch. Listen to the replay to learn about using online tools to track political influence. This chat was an outgrowth of the Specialized Reporting Institute, "Investigating the Super PACs," on April 21-22, 2012, that was hosted by the Sunlight Foundation and funded by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

Webinar Replays

How to Work with Campaign Finance Data: Figure out the complicated web of campaign finance and learn to interpret and analyze campaign finance data. Presented on June 20, 2012 by the Sunlight Foundation's Bill Allison and sponsored by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation in conjunction with the Specialized Reporting Institute, "Investigating the Super PACs," held April 21-22, 2012.

Political Fact-Checking: Tips and Tricks for the 2012 Election: Bill Adair, the editor of PolitiFact, the Pulitzer Prize-winning fact-checking site, describes how to ask the right experts, avoid common pitfalls and write clear and concise facts.

Election 2012 Reporting: Understanding Opinion Polls: Learn to effectively evaluate polling methods and accurately and confidently report on polls.

Innovative Social Tools for Covering the 2012 Election: Learn to add color and depth to your election coverage using social media.

Social Media and Your 2012 Election Coverage: This Webinar replay will teach you how to deepen your conversation with your community, involve the public in your coverage and use social media tools to deliver the political coverage your community needs. Part of the McCormick Foundation's Specialized Reporting Institute, "Elections 2012: The Campaign for Social Media," held Oct. 25-27, 2011.

Self-Directed Course

Understanding and Interpreting Polls (2012 Edition): Learn to dig into survey data and see how the numbers measure up; through this course, you will gain a better understanding of how polls are conducted, what to look for in the methodology and how to determine the legitimacy of a poll.