Reading the Campaign Finance Fine Print

For hardcore political inside baseball, nothing beats checking out campaign finance reports.

By law, candidates must report both who donates to them and how they spend their money. You can look up federal, state, and municipal campaigns, as well as school board (use HISD’s search bar to find reports). Different jurisdictions do things differently, of course, depending upon funding and the desire to be more or less transparent, so full searchable access like you find at the federal level is not a given across the board.

If money talks, then the $500,000 Tony Buzbee donated to Trump’s inauguration committee after he claimed he couldn’t possibly support Trump is like Niedermeyer spitting in your face as he berates you during uniform inspection. Yikes, dude. And that’s just one of many 5- and 6-figure gifts he’s made to Republicans, in case you are wondering where his political sympathies lie.

In the spirit of finding out where some other candidates’ sympathies lie, I scrolled through some other reports.

Sometimes, you find a little thing that may actually be a big thing inasmuch as it reflects how a candidate’s values affect their daily choices.

My current District H Council Member, Karla Cisneros, spent $200 at Chik-Fil-A in May of 2019 on food and drinks. I don’t know about you, but I find it really, really easy in Houston, of all places, to avoid spending money at this non-local chain notorious for its anti-GLBTQIA policies.

It reminded me of the candidate who claimed to be pro-labor but bought all campaign supplies at Wal-Mart. I get that it is impossible to be pure in a capitalist society (which is why I’m not roasting this person), but maybe try Costco?

Anyway …

I noticed that Bill King has campaign finance reports filed under Bill King and William E. King, so if you are looking for the current campaign (or his 2008 and 2009 filings), use William, but if you want to see his 2015 filings, search using Bill.

Not sure why you would switch. Could be a fluke. Could be trying to make it a tad bit harder to compare who is donating now versus then if someone searching doesn’t think to search under both names.

The big takeaway for me, each time I look through these reports, is that we could definitely benefit from campaign finance reforms at all levels. Smaller max gifts, greater restrictions on PACs and corporate gifts, more transparency in who gives to PACs, etc.

Also, mandatory digitization of records so that the average constituent can easily search records. Until then, I’ll be the dork exporting CSV files or downloading PDFs so I can browse at my leisure. Cheap, at-home entertainment and a window into democracy. What could be more fun?

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3 Responses to Reading the Campaign Finance Fine Print

  1. heidigerbracht says:

    LOVE local campaign finance reports! Thanks for highlighting their value. For what it’s worth: as much as I’d like candidates to remember what name they used (I worked for a Bill/William elected official) I think the clerk or whomever is responsible for posting these reports ALSO ought to be sure that they post reports both by race and also historically by candidate (especially if they used a different name) for clarity. This to me would be another useful reform. I have other thoughts about local races and partisanship, but they’re a bit long to comment on here. Would love to talk about it sometime. 🙂 Thanks for posting this!!

    • heidigerbracht says:

      (To clarify, in saying clerks should post by race, I mean grouping candidates’ reports by election race or district, not by racial identity.)

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