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10.6 Public Voter Information Sources: FEC Databases

The Federal Election Commission [62] was created both to track campaign contributions and to enforce federal regulations that surround them.

  • In 1975, Congress created the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to administer and enforce the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA)—the statute that governs the financing of federal elections. The duties of the FEC, which is an independent regulatory agency, are to disclose campaign finance information, to enforce the provisions of the law such as the limits and prohibitions on contributions, and to oversee the public funding of Presidential elections.

To provide a public record of campaign contributions, the FEC must maintain, and provide to the public, a full record of all campaign contributions. Many web sites that allow online contributions clearly indicate their requirement to report those contributions to the Federal Election Commission. The following text, taken from one candidate's web site exemplifies this kind of disclaimer:

  • We are required by federal law to collect and report to the Federal Election Commission the name, mailing address, occupation, and employer of individuals whose contributions exceed $200 in an election cycle. These records are available to the public. However, they cannot be used by other organizations for fundraising. We also make a note of your telephone number and email address, which helps us to contact you quickly if follow-up on your contribution is necessary under Federal election law. For additional information, visit the FEC website at http://www.fec.gov.

The FEC's role is to make this data available to the public. The information is available as raw data files, via FTP, and through online web interfaces on the FEC web site.

Numerous third-party web sites, such as http://www.opensecrets.org, also use this data to provide regular high-level reports on candidate funding. Consumers of the data are restricted by a policy that regulates how the data can be used [64]. The policy is surprisingly lenient, as it is primarily intended to prevent the use of contributors' names for commercial purposes or further solicitation of contributions.

The information provided in this database consists of each contributor's full name, city, ZIP code, and particulars of the contribution, such as the receiving candidate or party, the amount, and the date of the contribution. While limited, this information does allow one to build a history of political contributions for any U.S. citizen who appears in the database.

Contributors of record may be more likely to become victims of the other attacks already discussed in this chapter. Appearing in this database may expose high-net-worth contributors to targeted phishing (spear phishing) or malicious code attacks if the individual's name can be connected to his or her email address (no longer a difficult feat).

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