State Level Research
Pennsylvania Campaign Finance Home Page
Unlike the state’s official website below, this is very easy to use.
This page was prepared by State Representative Greg Vitali, who has been seeking to get Pennsylvania campaign contribution data online in a useful format.
PA Department of State Campaign Finance Reporting System (Search Here)
Pennsylvania Political Appointees
The Pennsylvania Governor, State Senators and State Representatives can also be researched through paper files in Harrisburg. You must contact the Pennsylvania Bureau of Commissions, Elections & Legislation. You need to talk to the person in charge of State Campaign Finance Reports and make arrangements to visit Harrisburg and review the appropriate files. The contributors occupation is required for those who give over $250.
County and Municipal Level Research
County and Local Politicians must be researched at your county courthouse. You have a right to walk in to your county courthouse and visit the Bureau of Elections. They have files on your county Republican and Democrat committees as well as on local campaign committees. There are two types of files they keep. One will be on committees. The other type will be on specific politicians which may not have committees set up and may not even be financed by their party (if they even have a party).
First, obtain a list of the committees registered in your county. Look over this list for county of township/city/borough-wide committees. They won’t necessarily be named according to the name of your municipality. A committee can be named something like “Committee for Good Effective Government” or some other vague and useless name. Some committees are named more obviously, such as “Committee to Get Joe Blow in Office.” Pay attention to who the players are and where they are registered.
Second, for those politicians who you can’t find a committee for, request their files by the name of the candidate.
Keep in mind that you must request the files by campaign year. The Republican Committee of your county will have files for each year that they had to run a candidate. Make sure to request each of these years. For local politicians who are already in office, you must request the years in which they had to run. If they are currently running, you may be able to get some of their current campaign contribution or expense reports. If not, you’ll need to find out when they last ran for office and request that year.
There are a few types of contributions. There is PAC money, which comes directly from Political Action Committees, such as Waste Management, Inc‘s PAC. You’ll find interesting things like $1000 contributions from their corporate headquarters in Oak Brook, IL to the Bucks County Republican Committee (4-18-97). There are also contributions from individuals. If these contributions are over $250, the individual must report who their employer is. Contributions that are $250 or less don’t give you this advantage, but if you know who the players are, you can still make interesting connections. For example, Robert Solarz gave $60 to Citizens for Mike Fitzpatrick (a Bucks County Commissioner) in 3-17-97. Solarz happens to be a Waste Management employee, but this didn’t need to be reported (and wasn’t).
You may only be able to go back so many years in your research. For example, In Bucks County, they throw away their records after 5 years, however, Schuylkill County’s records go back several decades. On December 31st of each year, Bucks County throws away the records from 5 years ago. It couldn’t hurt to try to obtain these records each year and provide a public archive of them in a local library or even in your basement or the basement of your local Common Cause or other good government advocate.