Tutorial: Campaign Statements
Candidates for public office on a federal, state and local level all must file campaign finance statements.
The statements detail who has given money to their campaigns, and what they spent that money on.
Similar statements also are required for campaign committees supporting or opposing ballot initiatives on a state and local level (there are no national ballot initiatives), and other kinds of political advocacy committees.
What’s in a Campaign Statement
Each campaign statement will detail the contributions a campaign committee received and expenditures it made during a reporting period.
While the format of campaign statements varies depending on whether they’re filed for a federal, state or local race, almost all include these elements:
- Cover page – this lists the name of the campaign committee, the candidate (or ballot measure) the committee is supporting, the office the candidate is running for, the name of the committee’s treasurer along with the treasurer’s contact information, and the dates of the reporting period covered in the statement.
- Financial summary page – this reports total contributions received (cash donations, loans and non-monetary contributions) and total expenditures made during the reporting period. This page usually also includes totals for previous reporting periods, and a grand total for all contributions and expenditures during the current election cycle (primary or general election) or calendar year. Thus it adds the contributions and expenditures in the current reporting period to the committee’s previously reported contributions and expenditures.
- Itemized contributions – the names of individuals or organizations that made a contribution to the commitee, the amount of each contribution, the date of the contribution, the address of the contributor, and the occupation and employer of the contributor. Often a running total of all contributions by a donor to the campaign committee will be included for the current campaign period (primary or general election) or for the current calendar year, adding the donor’s current contribution to previous contributions the donor made to this campaign committee.
- Non-monetary contributions – non-cash donations to the committee such as office space, consulting services, food for a fundraiser, etc. These will list the person or company making the non-monetary donation, their address, a description of the non-monetary donation, the value of the donation and the date of the donation.
- Loans – any loans received by the campaign, listing the lender’s name and address, the amount of the loan and often the interest rate being charged on the loan.
- Itemized expenditures – the names of people, businesses or organizations that were paid by the committee to perform services or provide supplies, along with their addresses and the amonts paid to them. The nature of the services or supplies provided is described, sometimes with a short code for different types of expenditures.
For more on what information is on a campaign statement, see:
- Federal Election Commission Registration and Reporting Forms – copies of the forms and instructions on filing.
- California Secretary of State Campaign Disclosure Statements – sample campaign statements, which include detailed explanations of what contributions and expenditures must be reported.
When Campaign Statements Are Filed
Campaign statements are filed periodically, each one covering a period of time leading up to an election.
For example, in the months leading up to a June primary election, a campaign committee might have to file three campaign statements – one covering January and February, another covering March and April and a third one covering part of May.
During off-election periods, office holders and candidate still must file campaign statements, usually semi-annually.
Where to Find the Statements
For federal offices, virtually all campaign statements are available online at the Federal Election Commission website. You also can use a search box there to find donations by particular individuals to all federal candidates.
Many states, including California, provide online access to state campaign statements.
Municipalities increasingly are putting online campaign statements in local races. But in many cases you still have to go to the government office, such as a city clerk’s office, to view the campaign reports.
Stories Using Campaign Statements
Citizens Outspent: Inside Richmond’s $4m Election Campaign – Richmond Confidential, 11/5/2012
Federal Campaign Statements
Campaign statements for federal offices – the U.S. Senate, the U.S. House of Representatives and the President – are filed with the Federal Election Commission. Campaign statements for political parties and independent political action committees (PACs) also are filed with the FEC.
In addition, “527 committees,” which are groups involved in political activities but that operate independently of a particular candidate or political party, file their statements (called a form 8872) with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service. The groups file with the IRS because of their tax-exempt status, and “527” refers the the section of the federal tax code dealing with tax-exempt political groups.
These 527 committees may support candidates, launch political advertising campaigns of their own or do grass-roots organizing, such as voter registration drives.
Another type of tax exempt committee regulated by the IRS that may be involved in some political activities is a 501(c)(4) social welfare organization. This is the type of organization that the IRS improperly targeted for extra scrutiny when many of them, especially groups affliated with the Tea Party, applied for tax exempt status during the 2012 elections.
For more on the different types of commitees see the Center for Responsive Politics’ Types of Advocacy Groups.
Finally, television stations also are required by the Federal Communications Commission to report political advertising purchases by campaign committees on all levels.
What’s Available Online
Federal Election Commission
The FEC’s online database of campaign contribution reports is searchable by candidate/office holder or by individual donor, as well as by the names of campaign committees and political action committees.
To get street addresses for individual contributors, click on the link for the image number to the right of the listing for a contributor’s name. That will call up an electronic copy of the section of the campaign report that lists the contributor and their address.
You also can download electronic copies of many of the reports in different formats. Links to the download sites are at:
Internal Revenue Service – 527 Committees
The IRS has a online database for searching campaign contribution and expenditure reports filed by independent 527 committees. These are committees involved in political activities that operate independently of a particular candidate or political party. They may support a candidate, launch advertising campaigns of their own or do grass-roots organizing, such as voter registration drives.
When doing a search, be sure to check the box for Form 8872 (which lists expenditures and contributions). The reports are viewable as PDF files.
Federal Communications Commission – TV Political Advertisements
The FCC has an online database of reports filed by television stations of political advertisements paid for by political campaign committees of all types.
At the page type in the call letters for a local TV station. Then at the new page click on the light blue and red star icon for “political files” in the menu near the top (roll over the icon with your mouse cursor and the words “political files” will appear).
Poynter also has published a guide on how to use these reports.
OpenSecrets, run by the Center for Responsive Politics, has searchable databases for individual donors, political action committees and 527 committees.
Formerly called FECInfo and now operated by CQ Roll Call, this is a non-governmental website that has an even more extensive database than the official FEC site, such as candidate filings dating back to the 1980 election. It was set up originally by a former FEC official.
Note: accessing more detailed information requires a paid subscription.
State Campaign Statements
States require candidates for state offices to file campaign spending and contribution reports.
Many states put the information online.
What’s Available Online
Several websites are gateways to state campaign data.
Federal Election Commission
The Federal Election Commission has a directory of Web sites of Secretaries of State and other agencies in each state that regulate campaign contribution reporting.
Investigative Reporters and Editors
Investigative Reporters and Editors Inc. has a list of links to the web pages of state agencies around the country that are depositories for campaign statement filings in those states.
National Institute on Money in State Politics
This site has compiled campaign contribution data from many different states into a searchable database.
California Campaign Statements
All candidates for any state or local office in California must file campaign statements.
Committees supporting or opposing state and local ballot propositions also must file campaign statements.
In addition, statements are required by political party committees or independent political committees (committees that are not affiliated with a particular candidate’s campaign).
The California Secretary of State’s Cal-Access website provides online access to the information in the statements.
What’s in the Campaign Statements
The campaign statements itemize contributions and loansfrom any individual or company to a candidate that total $100 or more during an election cycle (an election cycle is a primary election or a general election). For each contribution, the statements list:
- the donor’s name
- the donor’s address
- the donor’s occupation and employer
- the date of the contribution
- the amount of the contribution
Non-monetary contributions (such as donation of office space or services) must be reported as well.
The statements also describe what money was spent by the candidate or committee, detailing payments to campaign workers or consultants and expenditures on postage, printing, media advertising, polling surveys, office expenses, etc.
When the Statements are Filed
During an election year, seven statements usually are filed by each candidate or committee.
Four statements are filed for a June primary election – in January, March and May leading up to the election, and then in July for expenditures from late May through the June election date.
During the 90 days leading up to the June election, campaigns also must report within 24 hours any individual contributions of $1,000 or more.
Note: the filing schedules will be different if a primary election is held in a different month.
For specific dates see the California Fair Political Practices Commission’s 2014 Filing Schedules.
Three statements are filed for the November general election – in early October and late October leading up to the election, and then in December for expenditures from late October through the November election date.
During the 90 days leading up to the November election, campaigns also must report within 24 hours any individual contributions of $1,000 or more.
In a year in which no elections are scheduled, elected office holders still must file campaign statements every six months.
Where the Statements are Filed
For candidates for state office such the Assembly and Senate, Governor, Attorney General, etc., the statements are filed with the California Secretary of State in Sacramento. Major donor statements (see below) also are filed with the California Secretary of State.
Each state legislator – Assembly or Senate – also must file a copy of his or her campaign statement with the county registrar of voters in the county that has the largest number of registered voters in the legislator’s district.
For candidates for county offices and for special government districts or agencies (such as a school district or transit district board), the statements usually are kept with the county registrar of voters office or county elections department.
For candidates for city offices, the statements usually are kept by the city clerk’s office.
Any “major donor” – a person, company or organization that has contributed a total of $10,000 to California candidates or ballot measures in the past year – also must file a statement with the California Secretary of State’s Office detailing all of their contributions.
What’s Available Online
Campaign statements for state offices, including state ballot measures, can be accessed at the Secretary of State’s website called:
Any campaign committee that raises or spends $50,000 or more in an election must file electronically with the state and thus is included in the online database.
At the main Cal-Access page you can click on the main menu selections to find filings for candidates, ballot measure committees, political party committees, independent committees, major donors, late contributions and local city council or county supervisor campaigns.
Then either pick a particular candidate, committee or donor and an election period.
At the next screen choose the type of information you want – such as contributions received or expenditures made – to get detailed reports.
You also can download the raw data from the CalAccess site.
Note: The information in the campaign statements compiled at the CalAccess site are consolidated for each election. So all the statements filed leading up to a primary election will be consolidated into one electronic report, and all the statements filed leading up to a general election will be consolidated into another electronic report.
San Francisco Bay Area Campaign Statements
Candidates for county offices or for special government agencies or districts usually file with a county registrar of voter’s office or county elections office, while candidates for municipal offices will file with a city clerk’s office.
You often have to go to those offices to view the campaign statements in paper form.
What’s Available Online
Some California cities or counties such as Alameda County, Berkeley, Contra Costa County, Oakland, Richmond and San Francisco put online the campaign contribution and spending reports for candidates for city or county offices, as well as for local ballot measures.
Note: on your browser you may need to delete the cookie for the site nf4.netfile.com (which hosts the campaign statements) in order to view the forms for the different cities listed below.
The Alameda County Registrar of Voters posts electronic copies of campaign statements for a variety of races including the county board of supervisors and local school districts, special districts and cities in Alameda County. But the filings are incomplete and many campaign statements have not yet been posted online.
The filings that are available online are on a special website:
Note: To see the filings that have been posted for candidates for the Oakland Unified School District Board of Education election in November 2014, go to Browse Candidates & Measures by Election…11/04/2014 General Election…Candidates…School Director.
Berkeley has its campaign statements available at:
Search by name of a candidate to get a copy of the candidate’s campaign statement in pdf format.
Contra Costa County
Contra Costa County posts electronic copies of campaign statements for a variety of races including the county board of supervisors, local school districts and special districts. But the filings are incomplete and many campaign statements have not yet been posted online.
The filings that are available online are on a special website:
The Oakland City Clerk’s Office has an online database of campaign statements filed by candidates for city council, mayor, school board and other elected city offices, and committees for and against municipal ballot measures:
Richmond has electronic copies of campaign statements on its website at:
The San Francisco Ethics Commission has a searchable database of campaign statements and contributions to candidates at:
For help using the San Francisco database see the Campaign Finance Database Frequently Asked Questions.
About this Tutorial
This tutorial was originally written by Paul Grabowicz for students in his Computer Assisted Reporting class at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.
This content may not be republished in print or digital form without express written permission from Berkeley Advanced Media Institute. Please see our Content Redistribution Policy at multimedia.journalism.berkeley.edu/content_redistribution/.