Fueling Investigative Reporting for 2014 Elections

As we enter the 2014 Midterm Election season, investigative reporters and other journalists will need to sniff out the connections and influences that political donors have on candidates and the prominence of various issues, as well as on the public's awareness and knowledge of a variety of hot-button issues.

This resource page points journalists toward online resources, such as FollowTheMoney.org to compare political donor influence across states and election cycles and across levels of government. Trace the connection between political money and issues being debated in campaigns — issues including fracking, implementation of health-care reforms, and privatization of public resources — using the resources you'll find here.

The National Institute on Money in State Politics hosted this Specialized Reporting Institute focusing on relationships among political candidates, donors and issues. The workshop, held in August in Missoula, Montana, was funded by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

Find an Expert

This list includes representatives from nonpartisan groups who are well versed in the role money plays in politics.

At Follow the Money:

Edwin Bender, executive director, National Institute on Money in State Politics, email: edwinb@FollowTheMoney.org; tel. 406-449-2480

Denise Roth Barber, managing director, National Institute on Money in State Politics, email: deniser@FollowTheMoney.org; tel. 406-449-2480

Pete Quist, research director, National Institute on Money in State Politics, email: peteq@FollowTheMoney.org; tel. 406-449-2480

Mark Horvit, executive director, Investigative Reporters and Editors, email: mhorvit@ire.org

Denise Malan, director of data services, Investigative Reporters and Editors, email: denise@ire.org; tel. 479-422-2405

Ben Wieder, data reporter, Center for Public Integrity, email: bwieder@publicintegrity.org; tel. 202-481-1238

Blogs Worth Reading

In the Money Tale blog, researchers at the National Institute on Money in State Politics delve into today’s headlines and follow the money trail using the database. It’s a great way to find out who is involved financially in your ballot measures, campaigns and legislation, with data often cited by major news organizations.

In its Open Secrets blog, Center for Responsive Politics reporters regularly break stories on money in politics, with data often cited by major news organizations.

Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE)News Network has a number of blogs worth following:

Twitter Tags to Follow

@Eve_folo_money: The Institute’s communications specialist, Eve Byron, watches what’s happening throughout the nation and keeps you updated

@moneyinpolitics, the Institute's official Twitter account, is a great place to stay abreast of national trends

@DeniseMalan, Denise Malan, the director of data services for IRE, coordinates data projects among nonprofit newsrooms across the country

@sarhutch, Sarah Hutchins is the Web editor for IRE

@benbwieder, Ben Wieder, at the Center for Public Integrity, is the data reporter who follows money in politics

@derekwillis, Derek Willis, is a reporter and educator who runs the Itemizer website

And check out @opensecretsdc at the Center for Responsive Politics

What Others Are Doing

Wyoming tied for third-lowest percent of contested races for state legislature, Laura Hancock, Casper Star Tribune, Nov. 30, 2014

Power players: Montana's top 10 political donors, Jeremy Chapman, Great Falls Tribune, Nov. 24, 2014

Campaign cash flow, Daniel DeMay, Skagit Valley Herald, Nov. 2, 2014

Politically connected company would benefit from state Amendment 3, Charles Maldonado, The Lens, Oct. 31, 2014

Disney Breaking Its Own Campaign Spending Records, Adam Elmahrek and Nick Gerda, Voice of OC, Oct. 30, 2014

Outside Groups Pump Millions Into Peters-DeMaio Contest, Joe Yerardi, KPBS, Oct. 27, 2014

A Powerful Nursing Home Owner and a Push For Medical Review Panels in Kentucky, James McNair, KYCIR, Oct. 22, 2014

McHenry County residents make Illinois governor campaign contributions, Joseph Bustos, Northwest Herald, Oct. 9, 2014

USW pumps another $230k in Maine race for governor, Steve Mistler, Portland (Maine) Press Herald, Oct. 1, 2014

Docs link corporate donors' access to Republican Governors Association, Laura Hancock, Casper Star-Tribune, Sept. 28, 2014

Maine elections open faucet for money from interest groups, Steve Mistler, Portland Press Herald, Sept. 5, 2014

Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram reporter Steve Mistler looked at donors to the Maine Conservation Voters PAC and the amount it plans to spend on the state’s gubernatorial race: Maine Conservation Voters PAC enters governors race, Aug. 22, 2014

Jim McNair, with the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting, looked at problems with sewage in a trailer park owned by a well-known Democratic “rainmaker”: As Sewage Spills and Stench Plague Louisville Mobile Home Park, Company On Notice, Aug. 20, 2014

Gregory Nickerson and WyoFile looked at who is bankrolling the state’s top-funded primary candidates: Who bankrolls Wyoming’s top-funded primary candidates?, Aug. 19, 2014

The following stories show how news organizations have used Follow the Money's data:

Alex Altman and Time Magazine noted the reluctance of North Dakota to impose stricter regulations on the booming gas and oil industry and the industry's contributions to the state’s three top elected officials: Amid Federal Safety Push, North Dakota Considers New Energy Regulations, Aug. 13, 2014

A smartphone app, based in part on data from the National Institute on Money in State Politics, will show you the political contributions of products found at your local grocery store. Story by Al Kamen and Colby Itkowitz: Want to stop enriching people whose politics you hate? There’s an app for that., Aug. 12, 2014

Key Resources

SRI Participant Joe Yerardi Wins San Diego Press Club Awards for coverage of campaign contributions. Congratulations, Joe Yerardi!

Resources from the SRI

A presentation by IRE's Denise Malan, Bulletproofing Your Data Stories, guides journalists in planning, verifying and analyzing data-based stories.

A presentation by Ben Wieder, of the Center for Public Integrity, Who's Buying the Statehouse?, guides journalists in tracking and analyzing donations to candidates and funding of issue ads.

Key Web Resources

Follow the Money gives political reporters across the country a free investigative reporting tool that can add depth and power to elections reporting. With more than a decade of comprehensive, verifiable, primary source political-donor information from all 50 states, reporters can analyze donating trends to reveal strategic giving designed to influence policy outcomes. Also on the website:

  • Resources: A list of Money in Politics organizations where journalists can turn for help, whether it’s the legal or ethical implications of a situation
  • Disclosure Agencies: A list of government disclosure agencies on both the state and federal level

The Itemizer, a website run by Derek Williams, a reporter and educator who is partially funded by the Knight Foundation. Also on this website, you can find the most recent campaign finance filings from the Federal Election Commission and link to them. While the link defaults to the most recent filings (like today’s), you can plug any date into the schedule.

Political Ad Resources

The Sunlight Foundation's Political Ad Sleuth shows the most recent political advertising purchases.

The FCC's Station Profiles page provides a general link to search for political advertisement purchases on television.

PACs and Super-PACs

Consider the Source: Look up a PAC, a nonprofit or donor for a full profile and examine expenditure profiles of political media buyers. Hosted by the Center for Public Integrity.

Resources for Reporting on Super PACs: Resources gathered for an earlier SRI on Super PACs.

What Happens AFTER the Election?

The resources listed below address what all that political campaign money buys. What legislation is being promoted? Who is sponsoring bills on issues near and dear to donors' hearts? Follow the money trail into the halls of Congress to find out.

Maplight: A tool to follow federal funding.

The Sunlight Foundation has a wide range of tools to help journalists track political ads, lobbyists and others trying to influence politics. The website also has programs that allow people to track legislation, as well as popular buzzwords used in Congress.


Webinar Replays

Money in Politics: Investigating Campaign Finance in Your State and Nationally, originally webcast on Sept. 10, 2014, will help you identify key donors to candidates and party committees in your state or region and analyze giving trends. Learn to compare the fundraising successes, failures and trends of candidates in your area and analyze giving by industry to reveal strategic giving patterns, regionally, locally or nationally.

Election 2012 Reporting: Understanding Opinion Polls: Created for the 2012 election cycle, this Webinar is worth a new look. Learn to read, understand and interpret political polling data to improve your reporting on the upcoming election.

How to Keep Misinformation from Spreading: Many political campaigns thrive on misinformation, and research shows that misinformation can be difficult to correct. Do your part to prevent the spread of misinformation — whether deliberate or not — and improve the accuracy of your political reporting.

How to Work with Campaign Finance Data: Learn to untangle the post-Citizens United world of campaign finance, as the amount of money flowing into campaigns grows and figuring out the source becomes increasingly challenging.

Political Fact-Checking: Tips and Tricks for the 2012 Election: PolitiFact's Bill Adair discusses best practices in political fact-checking in this Webinar, originally broadcast during the 2012 election season.

Self-Directed Courses

Understanding and Interpreting Polls: Learn to dig into the survey data and see how the numbers measure up. In 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.

The National Institute on Money in State Politics Training

The National Institute on Money in State Politics offers free, hands-on training to anyone who is interested in learning how to use our new website and others for computer assisted reporting. The organization will do Webinars for one person or a group of people as well. To learn more, contact Eve Byron or 406-449-2480.