Federal Contribution Search Guide
Tips and advice on how to get the most from MapLight’s Contribution Search.
Table of Contents
- Advanced Search Tips
- Ignoring employee contributions
- Extra fields in the full data table
- Search by contributor name, not by organization
- Look for variation on individuals’ names
- Use our search API in your own software
- Common Questions
- Where does the data come from?
- Why don’t I get any results when I search?
- How are search terms combined?
- Why are there multiple names for the same contributor?
- Can I narrow the time period to shorter than two years?
- Can I search by industry?
- Why do I see negative contributions?
- How are corporate PAC contributions identified?
- Where else can I go for campaign finance information?
- I have another question that isn’t answered here. Who can I talk to?
Ignoring employee contributions
When you search for an organization, the results include all contributions by that organization’s employees and its political action committee. To exclude employee contributions, search for all contributions by the organization, download the full data table, open it in a spreadsheet, sort by contributor name, and remove rows for employees.
Extra fields in the full data table
When you download the full data table, you have access to additional information that isn’t shown in the summary tables on the website:
- FEC ID
- Zip Code
If you are familiar with pivot tables in spreadsheets, you can quickly perform several complicated analyses beyond what is available in the web application. Examples include but are not limited to:
- An organization’s contributions, broken out into totals to each candidate
- How much of a senatorial candidate’s contributions came from in-state vs. out-of-state
- Whether organizations have contributed more to Democrats or Republicans
- Totals of unitemized contributions
Search by contributor name, not by organization
The contributor field provides suggestions for some of the biggest contributors, but maybe you want to be a little less specific. Perhaps you want all contributions from any chamber of commerce, not just the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The last option in our contributor suggestion menu is to search for any names containing your search terms. Click this option to search for names across all organizations, individuals, and their employers.
To do the same thing on the keyboard, put brackets [ ] around your search. For example, if you type in “[apple]” you can find contributions by various members of the apple farming community, not just contributions from the technology company Apple and its employees.
Note: searching by contributor name includes results from anyone who shares the same name or works for an employer with that name, so we recommend downloading the data to filter out any false positives.
Look for variations on individuals’ names
People don’t always spell their name identically across all filings. To get a complete picture for a contributor, you may need to search for nicknames and legal names. For example, “Tom Steyer” and “Thomas Steyer” will not produce the same search results.
Use our search API in your own software
MapLight’s contribution search comes with an API that you can use to analyze the data in bulk or build your own tools on top of our data set.
Where does the data come from?
Our search is based on bulk data from the Federal Election Commission. Learn more.
Why don’t I get any results when I search?
Try these tips to get more results:
Broaden your search
Your search might be too specific. Make sure that you have selected all of the applicable election cycles. Check spelling when searching by name. The fewer words you use, the more results you will get. A search for contributor names like “acme bread company” will return fewer results than a search for names like “acme bread”.
If you include both a contributor and a candidate, like contributions from General Electric to Karen Handel, you will only get results where one of the contributors matches AND one of the candidates matches. If you instead want to see all contributions from General Electric to all candidates, leave the candidate field empty. If you want to see all contributions from anyone to Karen Handel, leave the contributor field empty.
Look to fec.gov for time-sensitive searches
MapLight’s search uses the bulk data from the Federal Election Commission (FEC). Our source data is released by the FEC after processing, and they may have more recent unprocessed data available on their website. Learn more.
How are all of the search terms combined?
When you enter more than one contributor, the search form will look for any contributions from ANY of those contributors. For example, if you search for contributions from Raytheon and then use “add a contributor” to add Lockheed Martin to your search, you will get all campaign contributions from either of those defense contractors. We include contributions from employees of the organizations that you select.
Similarly, if you enter more than one candidate, the search form will look for any contributions to ANY of those candidates. For example, you could type in the names of each member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and you can see all contributions from anyone to those Senators.
Results are limited to transactions that match all three filters: contributors, candidates, and election cycles. For example, if you search for contributions from Raytheon to members of the Senate Armed Services Committee with only the 2016 election cycle selected, you will only get contributions where ALL of the following are true:
- The contribution is from Raytheon or one of its employees
- The contribution is to one of the Senators that you selected
- The contribution was made in the 2016 election cycle.
Why are there multiple names for the same contributor?
The quality of data released by the FEC depends in large part on who completes the disclosure filings. For example, the same person may be listed with their middle name in some filings and not others or include abbreviations for “jr” or “sr” inconsistently. These variations can often be caught only by manual review. Similarly, the same company may have dozens of different spellings. While MapLight’s research team studies the largest organizations and corrects their names, small organizations and individual donors will often be listed with many different names.
Can I narrow the time period to shorter than two years?
Search for all election cycles that contain the dates of interest to you and download the full data table. Contributions will be sorted by date. Edit your spreadsheet to only include dates within the time period of interest and recalculate the totals.
Can I search by industry?
MapLight’s search does not offer the option to search by industry. To find campaign contributions coded by industry, we recommend visiting OpenSecrets.org.
Why do I see negative contributions?
Negative contributions reflect refunds to a contributor of a previously-accepted campaign contribution.
How are corporate PAC contributions identified?
Political Action Committees file Statement of Organization forms with the Federal Election Commission that provide basic information about the organization. When a PAC is connected with an organization, the form includes a checkbox identifying the category of the connected organization. When the “Corporate PACs Only” option is selected, only contributions from PACs that self-reported that they were connected to a corporation on their latest Statement of Organization for the time period of the contribution are included.
Where else can I go for campaign finance information?
A chart outlining the different features of free tools to search for federal campaign contribution data is available here.
I have another question that isn’t answered here. Who can I talk to?
Contact us – we welcome your questions. We also welcome hearing how you are using our tool and what could make it better.