Who we are: Greetings, Reddit! We're back and ready to take on your money-in-politics questions!

We are some of the staff at the Center for Responsive Politics (OpenSecrets.org), a nonpartisan research organization that downloads and analyzes campaign finance and lobbying data and produces original journalism on those subjects. We also research the personal finances of members of Congress. We only work at the federal level (presidential and congressional races), so we can't answer your questions about state or local-level races or initiatives. Here's our mission.

About us:

Sheila Krumholz is our executive director, a post she's held since 2006. She knows campaign finance inside-out, having served before that as CRP's research director, supervising data analysis for OpenSecrets.org and the organization's clients.

Robert Maguire, the political nonprofits investigator, is the engineer behind CRP's Politically Active Nonprofits project, which tracks the financial networks of "dark money" groups, mainly 501(c)(4) and 501(c)(6) organizations, such as those funded by David and Charles Koch.

Bob Biersack, a Senior Fellow at CRP, spent 30 years on the staff of the U.S. Federal Election Commission, where he was the FEC's statistician, its press officer, and a special assistant working to redesign the disclosure process.

Viveca Novak, editorial and communications director, is an award-winning journalist who runs the OpenSecrets Blog and fields press inquiries. Previously, Viveca was deputy director of FactCheck.org and a Washington correspondent for Time magazine and The Wall Street Journal.

Luke Breckenridge, the outreach and social media coordinator, promotes CRP's research and blog posts, writes the weekly newsletter, and works to increase citizen engagement on behalf of the organization.

Down to business ...

Hit us with your best questions. What is "dark money?" How big an impact do figures like Tom Steyer or the Koch brothers have on the electoral process? How expensive is it to get elected in America? What are the rules for disclosure of different types of campaign finance contributions? Who benefits from this setup? What's the difference between 100 tiny horses making 100 tiny contributions and one big duck making a big contribution (seriously though - there's a difference)?

We'll all be using /u/opensecretsdc to respond, but signing off with our initials so you can tell who's who.

Our Proof: https://twitter.com/OpenSecretsDC/status/560852922230407168

UPDATE: This was a blast! It's past 2:30, some senior staff have to sign off. Please keep asking questions and we'll do our best to get back to you!

UPDATE #2: We're headed out for the evening. We'll be checking the thread over the weekend / next week trying to answer your questions. Thanks again, Reddit.

Comments: 1576 • Responses: 35  • Date: 

Tarnsman4Life182 karma

Are yoy guys mostly focused on groups funded by the Koch brothers? Or will you be focusing on other groups funded by Billionaires such as Michael Bloomberg and George Soros? Will you also be targeting groups funded by the oil industry and Unions?

Gjeesterphlunnie58 karma

The lack of an answer is your answer right here.

Big funding is only bad if it's going to your political enemies after all, right?

OpenSecretsDC7 karma

There is an answer now. It was the weekend, and the AMA was over, but I do think it's an important question to answer.


OpenSecretsDC29 karma

Sorry for the wait. It is the weekend, and the AMA has been long over, but I felt this deserved an answer.

We follow any and all organizations and individuals regardless of ideology. We are, first and foremost, a data organization -- though we do significant research and reporting as well. We process, standardize and make available to the public large amounts of lobbying, campaign finance, and personal financial disclose data so that people of all political stripes can make informed decisions.

Our research in general, and our nonprofit "dark money" research in particular very often focuses on groups on the left. We have, for example, written extensively about the largest and most questionable dark money group on the left:

http://www.opensecrets.org/news/2012/08/patriot-majority/ http://www.opensecrets.org/news/2013/05/shape-shifting-by-liberal-dark-mone/

We've mocked not only the questionable social welfare purpose of David Brock's opposition research nonprofit, American Bridge 21st Century Foundation, but also the fact that a Democratic group was so untransparent in how they provided documents to us:


With our friends at the Sunlight Foundation, we meticulously dug into the top donors of the Obama shadow campaign organization, Organizing for Action:

http://www.opensecrets.org/news/2014/07/ofa-fundraising-down-but-still-attracting-new-donors/ http://www.opensecrets.org/news/2014/06/organizing-for-action-whos-giving-to-obama-linked-nonprofit/ http://www.opensecrets.org/news/2013/10/organizing-for-action-chalks-up-77/ http://www.opensecrets.org/news/2013/07/organizing-for-action/

And we've written about the nondisclosing 501(c)(4) that formed to support Obama, Priorities USA:

http://www.opensecrets.org/news/2013/11/priorities-usa-relied-on-handful-of-donors/ http://www.opensecrets.org/news/2013/01/obamas-shadow-money-allie/

This is the tip of the iceberg. I would encourage you to poke around on the site, and see what you can find. For example, if you want to find George Soros's 2014 contributions to outside groups, have a look here: http://www.opensecrets.org/outsidespending/donor_detail.php?cycle=2014&id=U0000000364&type=I&super=N&name=Soros%2C+George

Or Bloomberg: http://www.opensecrets.org/outsidespending/donor_detail.php?cycle=2014&id=U0000003704&type=I&super=N&name=Bloomberg%2C+Michael+R.

Or Steyer: http://www.opensecrets.org/outsidespending/donor_detail.php?cycle=2014&id=U0000003652&type=I&super=N&name=Steyer%2C+Thomas

If you want to want to see how 501(c)(5) union spending compares to the spending from 501(c)(4) social welfare organizations and 501(c)(6) trade associations over time, check here: http://www.opensecrets.org/outsidespending/nonprof_summ.php

Also, dig through our blog. We put out several reports a week -- and several long major reports a quarter -- on a wide array of subject covering organizations across the political spectrum.

The Kochs, as we've mentioned in other responses, are a particular focus because their network of 501(c)(4) organizations is larger and more complex than any other in existence. If you know of another that engages in direct campaign activities, on the left or the right, that we aren't giving significant coverage to, by all means get in touch with us.


Seifertz101 karma

I'll bite, whats the difference between 100 duck sized contributions and 1 horse sized contribution?

OpenSecretsDC54 karma

One of the main differences is that the duck-sized contributions won't necessarily be buying access. If everyone is giving more or less the same contribution to the candidate of their choice (ducks come in slightly different sizes), they aren't much more likely than anyone else to get the ear of the candidate once their in office. The person giving the horse sized contribution is, which is why you see presidential candidates going to talk privately with wealthy donors before (and after) they become candidates.


inked4 karma

What can college students do to make a difference?

OpenSecretsDC-4 karma

Great question. Whatever stage you're at in your education (and we hope that's a lifelong pursuit), the first order of business is to get informed with credible, reliable, trustworthy sources of information. We're proud that our nonpartisan, freely available data, tools and blog provide that for anyone interested in understanding money's role in politics. But OpenSecrets isn't the only great source on Money in Politics. Other groups -- like the Campaign Legal Center on questions about the laws that govern money in politics, the National Institute on Money in State Politics on questions about money in state politics, the Campaign Finance Institute, Sunlight Foundation, and a whole host of media outlets, insightful journalists and activist organizations provide a constellation of resources you'll want to know about.

Secondly, get involved locally and pay attention to, and communicate with, your national representatives. Remember, whatever they're doing, they're doing it in your name. Obviously, one (but only one) piece of this is voting. We can do better than the 36% our country mustered in 2014. Because you're either at the table (and in the voting booth), or on the menu. (SK)

awkward_banana-1 karma

Isn't there a certain amount of money where it doesn't really matter how much money is spent? With that much money wouldn't it just saturate the market? 500 million could be just as effective as 1 billion. Look at 2012 Obama got out spent by a good margin but he was able to get the message out more effectively...so basically the Koch brothers are wasting money

OpenSecretsDC-5 karma

There is some research that suggests that the marginal value of the last $1 million (or whatever) is lower once you've reached really high levels of spending. Remember, though, that in competitive races - which end up being the ones where the most money is spent - pretty marginal changes in the vote result become very important. You're right though to remember that ultimately people are hearing the messages and making decisions on their own, and they sometimes choose the one with less money behind it - so long as there is enough for them to be aware of all of the different views. (bb)