About the Data

How the FT and Crowdpac gathered and analysed candidates’ campaign contributions

To analyse Barack Obama’s top 500 donors, the FT and Crowdpac, a political data start-up, gathered all the itemised individual contributions received by the main committees backing Mr Obama, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaigns.

The data for Mr Obama’s 2012 campaign included contributions to his principal campaign, his joint fundraiser with the Democratic National Committee, and the super-Pac Priorities USA Action, which supported his candidacy.

Data for Mrs Clinton’s 2016 campaign included contributions to her principal campaign, the DNC’s joint fundraising committees, the super-Pac Ready for Hillary, which formed during the 2014 election cycle, and Priorities USA, which is supporting her candidacy this year. The data collected included contributions through to June 30.

Data for Mr Sanders’ contributions only included his principal campaign fund. His DNC joint fundraiser was largely inactive through June, and he did not have a super-Pac backing him.

The cap on individual donations per committee has changed since the 2011-2012 campaign and election. 

The limit on donations to candidates’ presidential campaign funds this cycle was raised to $2,700 per election, up from $2,500 in 2011. 

Similarly, the cap on donations to national party committees such as the DNC were also raised to $33,400 this cycle from $30,800 in 2011. Joint fundraisers between presidential candidates and a national party committee allow candidates to raise larger amounts by combining what donors may give to an individual candidate and the party. This cycle, a national party’s committee may also accept up to $300,600 for its accounts funding the party’s presidential nominating convention, election recounts and headquarters.

Super-Pacs, by contrast, can raise unlimited amounts. But they may not co-ordinate with candidates’ campaigns.

It can be difficult to tally up donations from any one individual, as filings to the Federal Election Commission can be incomplete or inconsistent. If a donor uses a nickname, initial, different address or name of a new employer, it can obscure the data. Some donors will go to great lengths to reduce the perceived amount of their donations by giving through friends, family members or separate committees, which will then donate to the main committees backing the candidate.

To solve some of these issues, Crowdpac has an algorithm that analyses donors’ names, occupations, employers and geographic data in order to link separate donations made by individuals across multiple election cycles and jurisdictions. This, combined with manual processes and checking, allowed the FT and Crowdpac to produce a database and list of the top publicly-known donors.