My short bio: I'm Solomon Kahn, fellow at the Harvard University Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, former fellow at the Safra Center For Ethics. I've built a super powerful tool to explore who gives money to federal politicians, and it just launched to the public!

Ask me about where your Senators and Congresspeople raise their money from, and I will show you.

You can also play around with the visualization yourself here:, and if you're interested in staying updated on the project, you can join our mailing list here, or follow along on twitter.

My Proof:,,,,

Edit: There's some pretty powerful functionality that isn't immediately clear to some people. Click on any of the legend items to see the companies that make up that total. Click on any company to see the individual donations. Click on any rectangle in the main chart to see subsectors. If you find something interesting, click on the 'User Submissions' link, let us know, and we'll work to get it in front of journalists. Enjoy!

Comments: 946 • Responses: 84  • Date: 

Osiris62504 karma

So, if I am a raging progressive, but work for a large bank, my private contribution will come in under Finance, right?

solomonkahn329 karma


edit: Elaborating a bit since this question is now getting popular.

Individual donations are only for people who donate more than $200, and have to individually report to the FEC. For people who work at a bank and donate $25 to their favorite candidate, those would be included under "Small Money Donors."

To your point that industry classification doesn't encapsulate all the information we might be interested in about a person, you're 100% correct. Industry classification doesn't even always let you know what side of an issue a company is on. Alternative energy companies working to fight climate change and big oil companies are in the same "Energy" industry.

Ultimately, the summary view is just that, a summary. It doesn't tell you everything you need to know, and hides a lot of nuance, but gives you a good high level overview. To get more details, you should click the legend items, and see the specific companies, and individual people in those companies, who are making the donations.

detox7840 karma

Isn't that a bit misleading?

LawOfExcludedMiddle36 karma

Why would it be? You work for a large bank, ergo you work in finance.

Expiscor52 karma

Because it says finance donated to them making people think it was companies and not individuals

solomonkahn30 karma

I completely understand that it can be ambiguous at first glance, although there are a couple of ways I tried to make this clear.

In the summary view, you can see the donations coming from corporate PACs vs. Individuals by toggling the menu item. Another way is, when you click through the legend, you can see the companies and individuals who are donating. Lastly, it's all explained in depth in the methodology section.

John_Fx2 karma

Corporations are simply a collection of individuals and can't legally donate to campaigns.

solomonkahn7 karma

Corporations can now donate to campaigns, although they typically do not donate directly.

air_jordan10 karma

Yes, it absolutely is. So is his intro in which he calls this "an incredibly powerful tool."


solomonkahn1 karma

Ouch! You probably didn't realize there is some additional functionality that isn't immediately clear unless you check out the tutorial.

You can click on the bar chart to see subsectors. You can also click on any legend item to see the companies that make up that total. Lastly, you can click on any company to see the individual people who made those donations.

Finally, if you find something interesting, you can submit it and we'll work to get it in front of journalists.

Maybe reconsider your comment?

LadyManifesto458 karma

I get that this isn't a logical request (Abe Lincoln) , but it made me think of a question that you might be able to answer....

Did politicians , back then and earlier, need to raise money to fund their campaigns? Any good books to recommend on how campaigns were run during the early days of our democracy?

solomonkahn617 karma

This is a really amazing question, and I don't actually know the answer. I'm going to do some digging on this, but if you find out the answer, please PM me and let me know.

Edit: FYI, I just posted this question on r/AskHistorians, we'll see if we get any interesting answers

Dune17k371 karma

I feel that it might be quite rare for a Harvard-educated professor to say that they don't know something about their field. Bravo! Thank you for being willing to admit that even the most advanced of us don't have all the answers.

solomonkahn586 karma

A couple of things:

First, thanks for the kind words!

Next, I've actually found the opposite. The most successful and accomplished people I know are happy to publicly admit when they don't know things. I have a whole theory about why, if you want me to go into more details.

Lastly, I'm not a professor, just a fellow :)

koalabeard137 karma

Ok, why?

solomonkahn928 karma

Two main reasons:

1) When you admit you don't know things, people explain them to you, and you learn things a lot faster than people who don't ask the questions.

2) Once you get to a certain point in life, you stop being worried about whether people will think you're smart or not, so you don't feel self conscious about asking potentially stupid questions

MisuseOfMoose60 karma

Probably because being full of shit is bad for your credibility. Being able to acknowledge you don't know something fosters personal development. The whole premise of higher education beyond undergrad is being able to find an answer for something you don't know.

Smauler81 karma

Also, if you're a Harvard professor or fellow, and you try to bullshit, there's probably someone who actually knows close by.

solomonkahn47 karma

Very true!

boogalymoogaly135 karma

very cool. but what is "Unknown" category?

edit: and "Other"...the named categories, that's expected, but the vague ones...i guess it doesn't seem all that much, maybe $60 from "The Committee to Appoint Green Lantern for Supreme Court Justice" or something; especially for lesser members of Congress, but when you get to the Big Boys...that Other category can add up. What's in Other? And Unknown?

solomonkahn152 karma

The FEC requires that people list their occupation and employer on campaign contributions. Sometimes it's clear what sector and industry that leads to, and sometimes it's not.

For big companies like Google, it's easy to place donations in the "Technology" industry, but for for smaller companies, people who don't have employers listed, or ambiguous occupations like Student, they are listed in "Unknown" as an industry.

Endangered_Feces84178 karma

re-naming 'Unknown' to Miscellaneous would make it easier for folks to understand. It also looks less shady.

EDIT: Although 'Unknown' is technically correct, it's just not a great word. Maybe something like 'Uncategorized' is better.

solomonkahn130 karma

Not a bad idea.

solomonkahn39 karma

You can also click the legend items to see what makes up those larger numbers. So, if you click on "Unknown", you can see exactly where those numbers are coming from.

wwf4ever-4 karma

Hillary Clinton has nearly 24 million dollars in money received from "Unknown" and "Other" sources.. what the actual f***...

solomonkahn5 karma

Click on those legend items and you'll see more details. It's sources where we don't know what industry their companies are in, not that we don't know who donated.

YellowUmbrellaFella85 karma

Hello, Mr. Kahn! As a government student and statistics nerd, this new tool is going to be getting a lot of use from me in the future! Thank you for this. My question for you is this: Are there any aspirations you have for this resource in the world of campaigning or media reporting? If so, do you see this developing into some sort of "watch-dog" like source, similar to Politifact?

solomonkahn87 karma

Yes! The goal for this project is to have both citizens and journalists use it to understand the fundraising behavior of politicians.

It includes a place for people to submit the interesting (or scandalous) things they find on the site, which we will work to get in front of journalists. That part could be pretty interesting!

myquealer83 karma

What is the most surprising or significant thing you've discovered in all this data?

solomonkahn164 karma

To me, the most significant thing is how easy it is to clearly see where politicians are raising money from.

We as a society have so many strong feelings about money in politics, but people have those feelings based on vague ideas, not specific numbers. Hopefully this tool help people come to their own conclusions about money in politics coming from a place of understanding about how much money is being donated and by whom.

reasonablerandom83 karma

Thanks for doing this AMA. What about Hilary Clinton?

WaxFaster77 karma

Chris Christie?

Bear_Taco65 karma

Fuck. Unknown is a large amount.

solomonkahn225 karma

If you click on Unknown in the legend, you'll see many of those are students, homemakers, and people whose employers aren't listed.

Unknown just means that we don't know which industry the donations come from, not that we don't know who was doing the donating.

4861707079204e65772055 karma

Have you considered cross-referencing donor names with data on government contractors from the Office of Management and Budget? It would be interesting to see if the people/companies donating to different candidates are also heavily reliant on government spending. The OMB data also comes with NAICS codes, PSCs, and DUNS numbers so you have the opportunity to further build out the industry component and shrink that "Unknown" category a bit.

solomonkahn80 karma

I haven't, but that would be interesting!

Here's an open copy of the database if anyone want to pick this up:

proctor_of_the_Realm71 karma

If I may, I want to ask an unrelated question. Your name caught my eye. Are you aware of a fantasy-character, by a writer named R.E Howard, called Solomon Kane?

Sorry, for not being relevant but he's my favourite author, even though it's pulp fiction.

I just had to ask.

solomonkahn64 karma

It was mentioned once to me, and I've been meaning to follow up and read the book, but haven't done it yet. Thanks for the reminder to check out the book!

nlamby28 karma

Another not so relevant question: Do people ever conflate your name with Salman Kahn of Kahn Academy?

solomonkahn16 karma

Very infrequently.

hot_rats_10 karma

Scrolled down to see if anyone else made the same mistake as me. Sorry! The discussion and your responses are great and I won't be mixing you two up in the future!

solomonkahn3 karma

No worries, and thanks!

richardtheb54 karma

Any data on Vermin Supreme?

solomonkahn41 karma

Unfortunately, I couldn't find any.

toolymegapoopoo48 karma

Where does Elizabeth Warren get her funding? I really like her so I'm a little scared to ask, but I still really appreciate what you are doing.

solomonkahn49 karma

Here you go!

Make sure to click on the legend items, so you can see the individual companies and people who made the donations.

music0542 karma

  1. Any plans to do it for other countries?

  2. Need any technical help?

solomonkahn70 karma

The code will be open source, so people can modify for other countries.

Once I open up the code (need to do a bit of cleanup, but soon), pull requests will be welcome!

redalastor14 karma

What technologies is this based on?

solomonkahn35 karma

The database is postgresql, the application is Ruby on Rails, and the visualization is in d3.js

jeremywoertink12 karma

And the front end is bootstrap ;) good work on it. If it's going public on github, I'll definitely star it!

solomonkahn8 karma


stidf40 karma

What are you using for your data sources and what do you intend to do with your visualizations?

solomonkahn55 karma

I've got two main data sources.

The first is the OpenSecrets bulk data. They take the raw FEC data, do some cleaning, and then attach the sector and industry information wherever they can.

However, they don't have data on small money donors, only donors who pass the $200 reporting threshold. So, for the small money donors, I get the data from the FEC directly.

You can see all the details in the methodology section of any politician page if you scroll down to the bottom of the page:

edmanet3 karma

Can you explain what "small money donors" really means?

solomonkahn5 karma

If you donate less than $200 to a politician during an election cycle, they are not required to disclose your name and information to the FEC. Instead, they are able to lump all the sub-$200 donations together, into one "Unitemized Contributions" line item.

Since "Unitemized Contributions" doesn't mean anything to normal people, I've renamed it "small money donors."

Vault108Gary34 karma

Hello Dr. Kahn, thank-you for your time today. I have two questions;

Who are the primary funders of Jerrold Nadler?

How much influence do finders of politicians hold with the campaigns they donate to?

solomonkahn53 karma

First, I'm just a Mr., not a Dr. :)

As far as how much influence political funders hold with the campaigns they donate to, most people would say too much.

From the visualization, using this way of viewing Jerrold Nadler, you can see per election cycle what percentage of his contributions come from each industry:

His top 3 are Finance, Labor, and Lawyers.

stidf28 karma

How about Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstien the sitting CA senators?

Marylandman10120 karma

Is it just me or are these amounts smaller than you'd expect? Like people talk about millionaires and billionaires but these are like a combined 100k or so

solomonkahn52 karma

I love your comment, because it shows just how little people have connection to the actual numbers when things like this are discussed.

Some campaigns raise millions or hundreds of millions, some raise thousands. With this tool, you can see which are which.

mexistential_gyro2 karma

Is it just me, or is this too general to be insightful? Finance/Real Estate, Lawyers/Lobbyists. What am I supposed to do with this information?

solomonkahn11 karma

You can click either the sectors in the barchart to get information about subsectors, or click on the legend to get the individual companies that make up the legend sectors.

Check out the tutorial for more information on the functionality:

tyson198826 karma

Do you have Ron Paul from 2012?

Ninja_Wanker12321 karma

Favourite colour?

solomonkahn51 karma

I'm liking this one today:

coximus_maximus19 karma

Hello sir, do you have the info for Tim Huelskamp, Republican senator from Kansas? And also The Donald?

solomonkahn31 karma

Here's the visualization for Tim Huelskamp:

Also, here's Donald Trump:

Trump doesn't have a great view here because he's financed his campaign primarily through loans instead of contributions, which don't show up in the same way.

Sauroke18 karma

In your opinion, what is the most staggering information you have found so far?

solomonkahn45 karma

For my congressman, I found that Blackstone went from giving no money in one election cycle, to becoming his largest single donor in the next election cycle, when 14 people who never donated to him before maxed out donations in a single day.

---Eagle---10 karma

Rand Paul?

PhroMetal9 karma

Two questions for you, if I may!

I'm studying computer science now, so I'm really curious what is keeping all of this running (and what languages you're using).

My second question is: Do you think using exclusively public funding of campaigns would be a good change for the US to pursue? (I am really ignorant about the topic, but this is something I sometimes see mentioned.)

solomonkahn10 karma

I think having public funding of elections would be a great change, and I think there are lots of smart ways to implement that.

For technology, the database is postgresql, the site plumbing is Ruby on Rails, and the visualization is d3.js.

trevor_from_the_bank9 karma


solomonkahn17 karma


blastnabbit9 karma

Hey Solomon,

Appreciate you doing this! I'm just wondering: Is it giving voters meaningful information? Let me elaborate...

A search for Donald Trump, for example, show he's raised a total of $6,382,702.

But a quick browse of OpenSecrets shows that Our Principles PAC, a conservative super PAC, has raised almost $19 million for the purpose of "opposing Trump". It's not supporting a specific candidate, but is rather opposing one.

That's a very large sum of money that has entered the political arena, 18 times more than has been raised by super PACs supporting Trump, and 3 times more than the total raised funds in support of Trump that you've listed in your site.

(Incidentally, the Great America PAC has raised $1.2 million in support of Trump according to OpenSecrets, but it doesn't appear to be listed in the site either. Probably just old data, but you might want to get that updated if you're doing a big media push.)

Meanwhile, Sheldon Adelson has apparently said he was willing to contribute more than $100 million to help Trump get elected. A sum that large can not be in the form of a direct contribution, and will most likely go into one or a variety of super PACs.

If those PACs state they oppose Hillary Clinton, rather than that they support Donald Trump, how would a voter browsing your website recognize that one person had contributed such a vast sum of money essentially to getting Trump elected?

And if money raised for super PACs in opposition to candidates is not included in the visualization, is this a useful depiction of where each candidate gets their financial support, or simply half a finished product that could end up misleading voters more than informing them?

(Apologies if there's a way to visualize money raised in opposition to specific candidates, I didn't find it, but without identifying that cash you're missing half the money in politics -- in some cases, more.)

Edit: Interestingly, $11.8 million has been spent by PACs supporting Trump, while $36.8 million has been spent by PACs opposing him. So roughly 75% of the PAC money spent in this campaign cycle surrounding Trump is not included in this visualization, despite being in the OpenSecrets dataset.

For anyone interested, a detailed breakdown of that spending can be viewed on OpenSecrets itself, as well as breakdowns of total candidate funding by industry, geography, demographic, and recipient.

The same reports are available for all the candidates. Here are Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

If you're considering making a donation today, please consider supporting the work of OpenSecrets by donating to the Center for Responsive Politics. They run the site and are a registered 501c3 with an excellent rating from CharityNavigator.

solomonkahn13 karma

Hey, great question.

This tool will actually capture the spending of SuperPACs against candidates, just not their fundraising. So, if you raised $100 Million against Trump, but haven't spent it, you wouldn't see it in this tool.

To turn on that view, click on the options button on the visualization, and toggle independent expenditures.

To answer your overall question, there is still some money that this doesn't capture. In particular, the "non profits" such as Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS, is considered a social welfare non profit, and doesn't have to report its donors, etc...

I think the information is still meaningful, even if it's not complete.

jayreaddit9 karma

Does you database update automatically? Post script. You did a terrific job.

solomonkahn14 karma

No, it's unfortunately a pretty time intensive process.

solomonkahn13 karma

Reply to Post script: thanks! Much appreciated!

TectonicWafer7 karma

Mr. Kahn, any plans to do a version of this for state legislatures or governorships? Would such a thing even be possible?

solomonkahn10 karma

For some it would be possible, for some it wouldn't be possible. It depends if states require people to list their employer when donating money.

The code will soon be open source, so anyone who wants to modify it for other states /governments, they will be able to do that easily!

mynameisares7 karma

Under Hillary Clinton>2016>Unknown>Homemaker, I keep seeing the number $2,700. Why? Do homemakers really usually donate this much to a presidential campaign?

solomonkahn11 karma

Great question! The reason you see $2,700 so often is because that is the maximum amount you can directly donate to a candidate per election. It's not just homemakers, it's all professions where you see $2,700 donations.

murphysclaw16 karma


solomonkahn11 karma

I think any way you summarize things loses some nuance, but I think in general, classification by employment industry is the one area people would be most interested in seeing in a summary view.

I think the average person doesn't really know what's going on in the campaign finance system. Even I don't know everything that's going on. The laws, corporate structures, and reporting requirements are really complicated. Companies give money to trade groups that donate to non-profits that can spend on elections without disclosure. The system is built to hide that kind of behavior.

artem_m6 karma

Can we see Ted Cruz? Thanks.

IslamicStatePatriot5 karma

So no governors? Tried Kate Brown and Butch Otter to no avail. Shame that, governors have a greater direct impact in peoples day to day lives.

solomonkahn11 karma

It's more of a data availability issue than a desire issue. Each state has different ways of running their campaign finance system, and different levels of making that data available to people like me.

The code will be open source, so if people are interested, they could take the overall framework and make it work for their particular states.

iambluest5 karma

Is there a correlation between funding sources and election outcome? Does a candidate have better or worse "chance" of being elected depending on where their funds come from?

solomonkahn11 karma

I'm not sure, but it's an interesting analysis to run.

Here's a copy of the database, for anyone interested in finding out the answer to this question:

ICanWords4 karma

So if I work as a staff attorney for a tech company, I'm lumped in with lobbyists?

solomonkahn4 karma

You would be listed in the technology industry if you donated over $200 to a candidate. It's based on the employer, not the role. Same thing with accountants not listed in the financial sector if they work at a tech company.

DecisiveWhale3 karma

Jim Renacci, do you do state level politicians too?

The3Prime3Directive3 karma

Why did you change the color on Hillary's Small money donors?

On Trump and Sanders its Blue on hers Businesses are blue and Small money donors are green, the opposite of all the others I looked at.

solomonkahn16 karma

If you look at more politicians, you'll see that the actual color for any specific industry is pretty random. It has to do with the ranking, not the industry name.

Blue is the industry that has given the most over time, so for candidates with blue Small Money donors, it's because their small money donors have given more than any other specific industry.

solely_magnus3 karma

Will this be extended to other countries the UK in particular?

solomonkahn10 karma

The code will be open source, so people can take the framework and put it on top of data from other countries!

bneac3 karma

How about Bobby L. Rush? He is an Illinois Senator.

solomonkahn7 karma

Here's Bobby Rush, and in particular, here's the election cycle where he beat Barack Obama in the primaries!

GuyWithAName_3 karma

What's a hypotenuse?

solomonkahn6 karma

It's the long side of a right triangle.


Congressman Dr. Raul Ruiz (D - CA)?

Tomahawkin953 karma

Representative David Scott?

solomonkahn3 karma

Enjoy! Make sure to click around the legend items to see the individual companies and people who donated :)

notanalbumcover3 karma

Do any of these numbers include money from PACs or SuperPACs? I think that they should because they have as much of an effect if not more due to the amounts of money that can be donated. Thank you so much for this great new resource!

solomonkahn9 karma

They include donations from PACs, and they can also include spending by SuperPACs, but the SuperPAC spending is not included by default, because it messes up more politicians than it adds value to. One of the next features on the site will do a better job choosing to turn it on by default for some candidates, and not for others.

If you go to options at the top of a politician's page, you can turn it on.

notanalbumcover3 karma

Awesome! I did not realize that was an option. Thank you very much!

solomonkahn4 karma

You're welcome!

Thirty3Three3 karma

Do you use the Law of Attraction at all?

solomonkahn6 karma

Not on purpose.

trynagetrich3 karma

Lamar Alexander?

solomonkahn4 karma

Here you go, Lamar Alexander:

Make sure to click through on the legend items to get the specific companies and people making the donations!

Craziest_Cat_Lady3 karma

I've just started exploring, and I've come across a couple of negative numbers. Does that mean that the politician has contributed to something else?

solomonkahn10 karma

Negative numbers mean that they refunded money they raised in previous election cycles.

TheOneTrueE3 karma

This is amazing. Thank you. Who do you feel is the most purchased politician?

solomonkahn18 karma

I don't think it's a matter of one single politician being the most or least corrupt. I think it's about having a system that is set up with bad incentives. It's about a system where it's impossible to make decisions without thinking about how it affects your fundraising.

zilti2 karma

Off-topic, I know, but what do you think about Harvard's new anti-club-policy?

solomonkahn6 karma

I've never been an undergraduate at Harvard, and I actually live in NY and have a full time job, so I have no connection to the campus. This is just my side project. I don't know much about what's going on with the whole anti-club policy.

waternellon2 karma

Have any of the candidates a$ked you to censor this information, yet?

solomonkahn2 karma


3igen2 karma

Why did Hillary raise approximately twice as much money in 2008 as she did for her presidential campaign?

From your site: "In 2008, Hillary Clinton (D) ran for Senate in NY, against nobody. This was not an election year, so no candidate won."

solomonkahn9 karma

In 2008, she ran for President in the democratic race, and lost in the primary. She had multiple campaign committees active that year, and the system picked the senate one to display as a description, although the funding comes from all sources that election cycle, including the presidential race.

There's a bit of randomness to the way the system displays information in cases like this, which is a bug I intend to fix.

SummerhouseLater2 karma

The viz is cool,but why are color categories different for each candidate? If Blue is "unknown" on one candidate, why is it suddenly green for another candidate?

solomonkahn3 karma

It has to do with which industry has donated the most to the candidate.

Games_sans_frontiers2 karma

What did you think of James Purefoy's performance playing you as a Puritan avenger in the 2009 film based on your life?

solomonkahn2 karma


deaftelly2 karma

solomonkahn3 karma

Many people who are technically unemployed still have money. For example, if you are retired, or if your spouse works, you might have a lot of money, but list yourself as unemployed.

grim_as_ever2 karma

I don't have a particular person I want to ask about, but I've always wanted to ask this question so here goes.

Given that the population effectively doubles after every 40 years or so, what has the American government generally done with the extra tax revenue?

solomonkahn3 karma

I actually built another visualization of the US Budget that can help you answer that question! (bet you didn't see that coming!)

Check it out here:

slaPr2 karma

How did you create the visualizations and present the data? Are you using R and ggplot2? (Background: I'm a college senior interested in data science!)

solomonkahn6 karma

The visualizations are built in d3.js, the site is built using Ruby on Rails

Pseudo_OSF2 karma

Hey thanks for doing this! I know it says congress and Sentate but do you have any information on Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL)?

If not I'd be interested to see Elizabeth Warren.

solomonkahn5 karma

Sorry, no info for Governors, but here is Elizabeth Warren! Even more interesting, here is a view of who donated to her senate campaign from the financial industry.

explore_guy2 karma

Great service. there a way to see all the money ever spent on losing candidates?

solomonkahn9 karma

The database is open source, so anyone could use that data to run a query and get the information you are looking for:

CavalierEternals1 karma

May we please see Debbie Wasserman Schultz?

DoniDarkos-4 karma

What a name, why did your parents call you that? :P

solomonkahn7 karma

I was named after my great grandfather, Solomon, who passed away right before I was born.

He was a pretty cool guy, I've got a lot to live up to.