What are Campaign Finance Reports?

Nicholas K.

Campaign finance reports are documents required by regional and national law that disclose receipts and expenditures for political campaigns, i.e., campaigns for public office. Political candidates and parties in many nations are required to submit campaign finance reports during election campaigns. These reports contain detailed accounts of donations and expenses for the reporting period. A candidate or party must account for loans, election grants and donations, and other sources of funding in each report. Election officials review these reports to ensure compliance with limits on donation sizes and sources. The consequences for failure to report are determined by regional and national election commissions with fines common in most cases.

As modern elections have become more and more expensive, the issue of campaign financing has become controversial and hotly debated.
As modern elections have become more and more expensive, the issue of campaign financing has become controversial and hotly debated.

The treasurer of a political campaign or party must first explain all funds provided to the candidate during the reporting period. Political candidates often receive small donations from individuals that must be accounted fully to comply with election laws. Another source of funding is a political party committee, which is a special group created by a political party to assist candidates. Campaign finance reports must also detail contributions from political action committees (PACs) or groups created by corporations, unions, and other interest groups to support candidates. Candidates who wish to self-fund their campaigns must document loans from personal holdings.

Political candidates in many countries are required to submit campaign finance reports during election campaigns.
Political candidates in many countries are required to submit campaign finance reports during election campaigns.

These funds must be reconciled with expenditures from a political campaign during each quarter of an election period. In addition to monies spent on campaign advertising and get-out-the-vote efforts, candidates must provide detailed listings of office rentals and salaries paid out since their previous finance reports. Another element of a campaign finance report is a section dealing with payments to party committees. This expenditure is used by candidates with ample funds who want to assist their party as an election approaches. Campaign finance reports also require candidates to report donations from their treasuries to fellow candidates during the reporting period. This requirement ensures that candidates cannot use their campaign accounts as havens for excessive donations to fellow candidates.

Each campaign finance report is reviewed closely by regional and national election officials for compliance with law. These reports are reviewed initially to ensure that all sections are completed and supported by attached documents. Election officials also look at donations to and from each campaign through the lens of existing financial limits. Donor lists attached to campaign finance reports are examined for illegal contributions from foreign sources as well as unions and corporations without registered PACs.

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Discussion Comments


@NathanG - Does someting as simple as a PAC offend you? I am more offended by the legislation that allows corporations to directly contribute to political candidates.

The Supreme Court campaign finance ruling allowed corporations to directly give to campaigns, not through PACs, but through using their own money to create ads sponsoring certain candidates.

I can’t believe the Supreme Court handed down that ruling. This is a clear violation of interest in my opinion, and as I said, companies are allowed to use their own money – not PAC money – to subsidize these endorsements.


@Mammmood - I’ve never cared for PACS personally. Actually I have no problem with them in principle. I do have a problem when corporations, which should be politically neutral in my opinion, creating PACS for the purpose of supporting political candidates.

They make it a point to separate PAC money from regular company money, so everything stays above board in that respect. However, the fact is by creating the PAC they are explicitly endorsing one candidate over another and this makes employees feel uncomfortable.


@Moody - I don’t know about the case you’re describing. However there are ways to get around red tape for campaign contributions.

For example, I understand current laws state you must only declare your donors if they give above a certain amount. What if they give less than that amount?

In theory you could get away with not declaring where all your campaign money comes from. Again, I don’t know what the current laws are in that regard but there are ways to get around them, I’ve been told.

I really think our lawmakers need to come down harder on campaign finance laws.


Campaign finance laws are certainly very necessary. Unfortunately some unscrupulous politicians have found ways to skirt the rigorous demands of campaign finance laws.

Take the issue of foreign contributions for example. You are supposed to declare any and all foreign contributions. But I’ve heard that some candidates have been able to get around this sticky issue by allowing foreign contributions to be made online with the donors not specifying the source of the country sending the contributions.

Of course you should be able to trace the money through the bank wires and credit card statements but politicians haven’t always been on the up and up in that regard, at least from what I’ve heard.


@summing - Good points. I think that a lot of people would only learn to appreciate campaign finance reports if they went away. Kind of a don't know what you've got till its gone thing.

We have a remarkably effective and transparent election system in this country. Compared to many places in the world we have amazingly refined elections. An important part of this is campaign finance rules. If you don't know where the money is coming from there are hundreds of opportunities for corruption.


Many people might think that campaign finance reports are just dry bureaucratic documents that have to be filed just to meet arcane regulations. And in some cases this is true. But these reports also provide important information to scholars, the press, and the citizenry as a whole about who is really funding the people in power.

And this is important because we all know that money talks, especially in Washington. No matter how principled or passionate a candidate is, they all have to raise money and its naive to think this doesn't affect their decision making. Campaign finance reports are the only way to see who is paying to step up to the table. It's the truth that is buried in the details.

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