MacArthur Awards for Creative & Effective Institutions

National Institute on Money in State Politics

Helena, Montana | 2015 Award Recipient

Tracking campaign financing in all 50 states

It is challenging to track campaign contributions across 50 states, each with its own reporting requirements and schedules and methods for sharing the information.

The National Institute on Money in State Politics does that wrangling – collecting, analyzing, and publishing campaign finance data from more than 100,000 reports by more than 16,000 candidates in each of the 50 states. It uses the information to research trends in political giving, show how contributions drive public policy debates, and document how special interests fund candidates across state lines.

The Institute’s database covers $52 billion in political spending over several decades, and includes more than 51 million records filed by 30,000 filers in 1.9 million reports, enabling a level of analysis never before possible.

The Institute makes all of its data and publications freely available on its website, FollowTheMoney.org, the nation’s only nonpartisan, verifiable archive of contributions to political campaigns in all 50 states. It is used by citizens, journalists, public officials, researchers, and students to monitor campaign contributions.

Scholars using the Institute’s data link campaign finances to specific election outcomes, resulting in innovative policy proposals to temper money’s role in elections and create more inclusive and competitive elections. Legal experts are using the Institute’s data in weighing the merits of regulating political speech against the First Amendment. Institute data has been cited in 11 U.S. Supreme Court amicus briefs, as well as by Chief Justice Roberts in his opinion for the majority in McCutcheon v. FEC that struck down individual political contribution limits in April 2014. Issue advocates use the Institute’s resources to inform their work, such as countering efforts to further privatize prisons, relax payday lending regulation, reduce environmental regulation of coal companies, or extend tax breaks to gold-mining companies.

The Institute trained nearly 400 reporters to use its database in 2014; each day it provides data to journalists across the country who piece together how campaign donations affect elections and public policy. The data has been used in investigative reports by numerous media outlets.

The Institute will use its $1 million MacArthur Award to increase its reserves and rebuild its technology infrastructure.

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