Friday, February 17, 2012

Question Day 1: Spending

Charlie asks:
Is there anyone who analyzes where the MONEY in the primary season is being spent? TV? local parties? local consultants? Who is benefiting from an extended primary?
Great question, but I only have a partial answer. Generally, official campaign committees must disclose what they are spending, in some detail...but whether reporters dive into those disclosure statements, and how complete they are, are open questions. PACs (and Super PACs) have to disclose their spending, too, but with the same caveats.

On the plus side: you probably want to read what the Wesleyan Media Project, headed by Erica Fowler, Michael Franz, and Travis Ridout, have to offer. They "track and analyze all broadcast advertisements aired by or on behalf of federal and state election candidates in every media market in the country." So that's a big chunk of your story, right there. Open Secrets has some spending information (see e.g. Mitt Romney). but I haven't poked around there enough to know whether it gets to some of the things raised in the question. You can also go straight to the FEC for disclosure statements, if you want the raw data. Again, whether anyone is turning all this into useful-sized findings is a more difficult question. There's always some disclosure-based reporting, but probably not as much as some would like.


  1. For people interested in digging deep into FEC data: The committees file a Form3 at various time throughout the year, and you'll want to look at the Schedule-B lines for spending data. One schedule-b is filed for each itemized expenditure. There are various sub-lines but most committees file actual spending on line 23; contributions to other committees, contribution refunds, interest accrued, and others will have different line numbers. Here's a list of all Schedule-b line 23 spending for the year end report filed by Obama For America.

    There are several fields in a SB/23 that could be interesting: Expenditure Purpose Description, Category Code, Memo Code, Memo Description / Text. The FEC is somewhat lenient on how committees report and what fields they populate, so for non-memo expenditures you'll usually get a free-form text description and that's it. There is no standardization of these descriptions, but committees using the same filing software (NGP, Aristotle) may have similar descriptions (Catering/Facilities, Telemarketing, etc) but all committees are free to change the defaults at will.

    For itemized House and Senate spending it can sometimes be easier to use the new FEC candidate disbursement data set (

  2. And CMAG ( is a non-partisan, for-profit company dedicated entirely to this.

  3. Misread this a bit - CMAG tracks all media spending, but not other spending.

  4. This doesn't completely answer what I think Charlie is asking, but OpenSecrets cleans up and summarizes FEC data on this...for example:

    And they make their data candidate/PAC level data available here:

  5. I screwed up and double-posted this, and I'm taking the other version down, but didn't want to lose a comment by Colby:

    "As an addendum, in my experience, the rival campaigns plow through this info pretty thoroughly, always looking for a scandal, a violation, a few kernals to build a narrative on, etc. But this information ends up being treated as a lawyer's work product- used only to the extent that it helps the campaign win, and discarded pretty quickly after its over."


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