5. Political Contributions

What to look for: Which elected officials and political committees have they given money to on the city, state, and federal level?

Where to find it: Opensecrets.org, The Federal Election Commission (FEC) database, your city/state’s local campaign finance database. In some instances, these people’s political contributions will have been reported in local or national news.

Campaign finance research is an integral part of power research. There are many different ways powerful corporations and people use money to influence the outcome of elections. Sometimes, this research can have a lot of jargon associated with it. If you are running up against terms you don’t understand, check out OpenSecrets’ glossary. 

When conducting campaign finance research, you’ll have to use different databases depending on what kind of political donations you are investigating. For federal level donations, use opensecrets.org and the FEC’s database. For state level donations, use opensecrets.org or your state’s campaign finance database (which you can usually find by googling “your state” and “campaign finance search”.) For municipal level donations, use your city or county’s campaign finance database. It’s important to note that different cities and states have different campaign finance disclosure requirements, so some of these databases might have lots of information and be user-friendly to navigate, while others might not. 

Here are some useful guides to doing campaign finance research using these different databases: 

Campaign finance research in action: Jeff Yass

In Pennsylvania, movement researchers help build a movement to challenge the billionaire remaking their state’s political landscape

Researchers and activists in Pennsylvania have been focused on one powerful individual in recent years – billionaire Jeffrey Yass. As a co-founder and managing director of private equity and trading firm, Susquehanna International Group (SIG), Yass is now worth an estimated $30 billion. While Yass’s trading firm is powerful in its own right, owning hundreds of billions of shares in some of the world’s largest companies, Yass exerts his power most as an individual donor to right wing politicians and causes. 

Although Yass prefers to be out of the spotlight, research on his campaign contributions and political connections can shine light on how this billionaire uses his wealth to promote his own personal libertarian agenda: avoiding taxes and destroying public schools. Through campaign finance research on Yass and the various PACs that he funnels his money through, researchers have been able to connect him to extreme right wing organizations in Pennsylvania, to Republicans that supported the insurrection on January 6th, and to anti-public school PACs running ads targeting Democratic politicians. 

Yass’s immense wealth and connections give him the power to drive his own policy agenda on a state, national, and international scale. However, researchers and organizers working together have been working to hold him accountable for the damage he has caused to democracy. Rallies and press conferences have been held outside of his office, his Philly area home, and lawmakers and candidates have increasingly been speaking out against him in the public realm. Understanding his connections and sources of wealth help the movement to hold him accountable begin to break down his sources of power and take back power for people rather than billionaires.