How do I find out who is funding a candidate?
In 2010 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that outside groups can spend unlimited money on election-related advertising, so long as they do not coordinate with candidates. Since then the amount of money spent on politics has exploded. Many voters are concerned that elected officials are now more responsive to big spenders than they are to local voters. So how do you know who might be influencing votes? Candidates and political groups still have to report some information about their fundraising and spending. This tutorial is your guide to finding that information.
If you are researching a U.S. representative, U.S. senator, or presidential candidate, you can find information at the Federal Election Commission website. Other groups provide additional tools and insights, including Open Secrets and Influence Explorer.
If you are researching a candidate for state legislator, executive councilor, or governor, go to the Secretary of State’s campaign finance website, here. The rest of this tutorial will focus on finding data on that website.
Before you begin searching New Hampshire’s campaign finance website, you need to know that New Hampshire campaign finance reports can be written by hand and scanned into the system. Some of the information on these handwritten reports will not show up in search results because the handwriting is stored like a picture. This handwritten information can also be difficult to read; New Hampshire even had to a pass a law that campaign finance reports must be legible! So, before you begin, either be ready to spend some time reading scanned reports or be prepared to miss some of the whole picture.
There are several ways to search New Hampshire’s online campaign finance system, listed under “Search” on the middle of the website’s homepage.
Unless you are an advanced user who is confident about the information you expect to find, we recommend selecting “Search Filed Reports.” This will provide the most comprehensive information.
For the other searches, you will need to have specific information, such as the exact name of a political committee. There is no spellcheck in New Hampshire’s campaign finance system, or a “did you mean” prompt. There can also be small variations in how an individual or group is listed in the system in different years. Last but not least, some information will only be listed if it was submitted electronically. As noted in the previous step, donations that are recorded on handwritten reports will not show up as searchable records.
When you click “Search Filed Reports,” you will be able to filter campaign finance information in the following ways:
This specifies the timeframe or election season you are interested in. For example, “2024 Election Cycle” includes all spending related to the September primary and November general election in 2024. “Speaker Election 2022” only includes campaign finance related to the race for Speaker of the New Hampshire House that year.
Candidates and other political groups have deadlines to file regular campaign finance reports. This field allows you to limit your search to specific reporting dates. Each report will contain new donors and/or expenditures since the last reporting date. If you want to find everyone who ever gave to a candidate, you will want to see all reports and leave this field blank.
Unless you are an advanced user, you can probably ignore this field. There are some reports in special categories or with special deadlines. For example, the “Independent Expenditure” report must be filed by a political advocacy group within 48 hours of spending over $1,000.
This is another field we recommend leaving blank, because it is often difficult to know what category a political group or candidate falls into. Here is a brief explanation of the four options:
- Political Committee: This includes local and regional political party organizations, such as the Hillsborough County Republican Committee or the Greenland NH Democratic Committee. It also includes other committees/groups that spend on advertising for or against a candidate or legislation, especially if that is the group’s primary focus.
- Political Advocacy Organization: This includes groups that spend $2,500 or more in a year on advertisements that a “reasonable person” would interpret as political. The difference between a “political committee” and a “political advocacy organization” is fairly subtle, but both categories include groups that are not candidates that participate in election-related spending.
- Candidate Committee: Sometimes a candidate forms a committee to help them run for office, and the committee is responsible for the candidate’s campaign finance reports. That is a “Candidate Committee.”
- Candidate: This one is exactly what it sounds like, a candidate who is running for office and filing their own reports.
This field allows you to find a candidate or political group by typing in their name. When you start typing letters, the website will pop down a list of names that include those letters. You must select a name from that list. Unfortunately, there is no spellcheck here. If you are searching for a candidate, start with their last name. However, some candidates also create committees that only use their first name, so try that if you don’t find the result you’re looking for. If you still can’t find the name you’re looking for, you can try the “Search Registrants” page, which gives more ways to find the exact name of who you are looking for. Lastly, you will notice there is a column titled “Election Cycle” in the pop-down under “Registrant Name.” Make sure you select a line that matches the “Election Cycle” you are interested in, as described above.
Filed Date Range
This allows you to filter reports based on when they were submitted to the Secretary of State. This is slightly different than the “Reporting Period,” noted above, because this field focuses on when a report was delivered to the state, not the date range of donations and expenditures on the report. You probably do not need to use this field.
This field is relevant if you are searching for candidates, not political groups. You can specify if you are interested in candidates for the General Court (state legislature), County, or Executive Branch (governor and executive council).
This field can only be used if you specify an “Office Type,” as described above. If you selected “General Court” as the office type, you must select either “State Senate,” “State Representative,” or “Speaker of the House.” If you selected “County” as the office type, you must select either “Sherriff,” “County Attorney,” “County Treasurer,” “Register of Deeds,” “Register of Probate,” or “County Commissioner.” If you selected “Executive Branch” as the office type, you must select either “Governor” or “Executive Council.”
This field narrows the results to three general timeframes in an election: primary (in most cases, leading up to September), general (in most cases, between September and November), and 6 months after that.
This is a number assigned by the campaign finance system. It is unlikely you will know or need this information.
Different campaign finance reports are formatted differently, but most of them generally include who gave money and how that money was spent. Here is some information you may find insightful on a report.
“Receipts” are money raised. In the New Hampshire House of Representatives it is not uncommon for candidates to raise and spend less than $1,000, which is the legal threshold to file a campaign finance report. However, some of the high-profile representative candidates raise $10,000 or more.
There is a lot more money in state Senate races. These days it’s not uncommon to see state Senate campaigns raise over $100,000.
A column titled “This Period” shows total amounts just for the reporting period, generally a few weeks. A column titled “To Date” shows total amounts over the entire election campaign.
You can also see lists of individual donations on later pages in a report. These lists show the name, address, and job for individual donors, as well as how much they have donated. You may be interested to see who gave a large amount of money, or how many donors are in-state versus out-of-state.
“Expenditures” show how much money was spent. For candidates, this often includes paper advertisements, website hosting, and snacks for meetings. For political committees and organizations, expenditures include donations to candidates as well as any of their own advertisements or events. You may find that some organizations give to both the Republican and Democratic candidates in a race, perhaps aiming to curry favor no matter who wins.
Candidates and their committees can also donate to each other. Candidates who are especially strong fundraisers may be more likely to donate to other candidates, or even back to their political party.
Anytime you see a political mailer or other advertisement for or against a candidate in New Hampshire, state law requires it to include information about who paid for that ad. You can look up that name on the Secretary of State’s campaign finance website to see where their money comes from, if the money is from New Hampshire, and what other political interests they might have.
In addition to election-related spending, elected officials must report when they receive gifts or are reimbursed for some expenses.
For example, many state legislators are invited to conferences where national organizations present their policy ideas; the organizations then offer to reimburse legislators for the travel costs. Other times legislators are gifted tickets to events or offered compensation for participation.
Legislators must report all of this. You can find their reports on the Secretary of State’s website, here.
Unfortunately, these reports are scanned documents without a search function. You must browse each report by the official’s last name.