graphicof cash next to the Missouri Capitol for a story tracking campaign finance.
The Missouri Capitol building. Missourians can use online resources to track campaign finance in the state. (Meg Cunningham/ The Beacon)

If your mailboxes are already flooded with shiny election postcards and you can’t escape the political ads during commercial breaks, there are easy ways to use online resources to find out the groups who are paying for them. Online campaign finance portals allow you to follow the money from the time someone donates it to when it was spent by a campaign or political committee. 

Information on campaign finance activity related to state offices in Missouri — such as governor, attorney general, Missouri General Assembly  and local offices —  can be found on the Missouri Ethics Commission (MEC) website. And information on campaign finance activity related to federal offices — such as president, U.S. Senate and U.S. House — can be found on the Federal Election Commission’s (FEC)  website. 

State and federal campaign finance laws require that candidates and political committees report the raising and spending that they do every election cycle. Races are subject to different campaign finance limits. 

Individuals and political action committees known as PACs are not allowed to donate more than $2,650 to any candidate running for statewide offices after new campaign finance rules went into effect in 2019. PACs are a tool for donors with a common interest to pool their money and increase their impact. 

Individuals and PACs can donate to campaigns for statewide offices, like governor, secretary of state or attorney general, and federal offices, like U.S. House or Senate, in Missouri. PACs can support or oppose candidates or ballot measures, but cannot be directly related to an official campaign. 

For state Senate races, individuals and PACs cannot donate more than $2,400 to a campaign. For the state House, the limit is $2,000. Localities can set their own campaign finance limits, but the state Constitution does not specify limits for local elections and candidates. 

For federal races, individuals can donate up to $2,900 to a candidate’s campaign per election cycle. 

There are also super PACs, which can accept unlimited amounts of money from individuals but cannot donate directly to campaigns themselves. Those groups are only allowed to spend their money in support of or opposition to a campaign. 

What campaign finance information is available?

Campaign finance reports have a record of every dollar spent and received by a campaign or committee. 

In statewide and federal reports, dollars received are recorded as “contributions,” while they’re recorded as “expenditures” in statewide filings and “disbursements” in federal filings. 

In Missouri, campaign donations can stay anonymous if they are under $25. For federal races, the anonymous contribution limit is $50. If donations exceed those amounts, campaigns must disclose where they came from, and the donation is public record. 

The FEC and MEC publish the specific records that track campaign finance donations. In most cases, donors must provide their name, mailing address and employer. Reports will also show the date the donation was received.  

At the top of both FEC and MEC reports, overviews of the money spent and received during a filing period are featured at the top. 

Filings also show disbursements made by a campaign or committee. Campaigns can rack up the spending for things like mailing lists, advertising or polling. In federal and statewide filings, campaigns must provide a reason for the disbursement. 

How do I find campaign finance reports for statewide and local races?

You’ll use the MEC website to track statewide campaigns. 

You can search by candidate or committee name or comb through candidates based on the election they are running in. You can also search what committees have spent on candidates each cycle. 

When searching for a candidate’s spending, you’ll enter their name or MEC identification code, if you happen to know it. The MEC website will return what matches your search. 

You can then click on the MEC ID, which will navigate you to the candidate’s committee page. The summary page will give you information about the treasurer for the committee; the committee’s filing history, such as when it was started; and whether any other spending committees are connected to it. 

If you click the “Reports”’ tab on the summary page, you can see electronic reports for all of the committee’s election cycles.

Those hyperlinked IDs will take you to the report for the spending quarter, plus some additional filings that are required closer to election dates. These reports are electronically filed and automatically aggregate. They feature the spending and donations that the campaign received during the quarter. For individual donations, they also feature the aggregate amount of money received from an individual in the cycle to date. 

You can also see how outside groups are spending in statewide races if you search by committee type or status.  Outside groups, like political action committees, can spend unlimited amounts of money on an election, thanks to a 2010 Supreme Court ruling, Citizens United. The Supreme Court ruled that limiting spending from corporations and other groups is a violation of First Amendment rights. Now, outside groups can spend as much money as they’d like for or against a candidate or for “issue advocacy” such as gun rights or abortion.

For example, the National Rifle Association’s political fund has been filed as a PAC in Missouri since 2018. They don’t spend every quarter, but are still required to upload quarterly reports, no matter what. In 2020, the group donated to members of Republican leadership in the House and Senate in the weeks leading up to the general election. 

By clicking on the “Committee type” tab, you can choose from a drop-down menu of different kinds of spending committees, like federal PACs, out-of-state committees, political party committees or political action committees. You can filter if you’d like to look through active or committees that are no longer operating, as well. 

You can find the committees for all of the state’s candidates through this page, or see how federal PACs or out-of-state groups are spending to try and have their say in statewide races. 

You can use this information to see how PACs run by companies and the employees who  work there can have their say in races. For example, Ameren, one of the largest electric providers in Missouri, has a federal PAC that gave just over $4,000 to its Missouri subsidiary in the last quarter. Ameren Missouri PAC, which receives money from its employees in the state, gave $500 to a candidate’s committee for state Senate. 

You can also use the committee type search to see spending from the state’s political party committees. For example, you could track the spending of the Jackson County Democratic Committee or how much money they raised at a fundraising event. A June 30 fundraising event brought the county party’s committee nearly $5,000 from 100 donors, according to filings. 

The MEC also has a tab for donations made over $5,000, which are legally required to be reported within 48 hours. 

You can also use the MEC’s website for statewide and local ballot measures by election year. Committees supporting or opposing ballot measures must file quarterly reports as well. 

How do I find campaign finance reports for federal races?

Reports for federal races are housed on the FEC’s website. There you can see campaign finance for U.S. Senate and House races, as well as presidential candidates and federally active PACs and super PACs. 

You can browse raising or spending for Missouri’s federal races online. On the FEC’s website, candidates themselves only file statements of candidacy each election year. But the candidate’s committees are always aggregated to their summary page, just like on the MEC. 

Candidates’ “principal campaign committees” do the raising and spending on behalf of a candidate in federal races, not dissimilar to how things are done on a statewide level.

On the FEC’s website, you can find a financial summary tab that allows you to navigate through the raising and spending of a candidate’s committee. You can also go through that committee’s filings, which will break down the itemized contributions and disbursements that the committee had for the quarter. 

You can browse all the registered committees and PACs on the FEC’s website and refine the search by state. 

This is where you can see where companies and political action committees donate money to federal candidates.

How do I search for individual donors?

On the MEC’s website, you can search who has given in what races by their name and what election year you’re looking for. If you’re curious about what sorts of candidates your neighbor or teacher from elementary school may support, this is an easy way to snoop around in their political leanings. You can also refine the search by looking for contributions made between specific dates. 

You can also use an advanced search option to search individual or business contributions.

On the FEC’s website, you can search through individual contributions for federal campaigns. You can use similar search fields to find information as on the MEC’s website, like someone’s name, address or employer. 

You can refine those searches by state, city or ZIP code. 

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MEG CUNNINGHAM is The Beacon’s Missouri Statehouse reporter. Previously, Meg worked as a national politics reporter for ABC News in Washington, D.C., where she covered campaigns and elections. Meg is...