This file contains all itemized disbursements reported by a candidate for either the House or Senate during the current election cycle. This includes any candidate who ran in a regular House or Senate campaign, along with all candidates in special elections in either the odd numbered year or the election year.
Campaign committees are required to disclose all specific disbursements that are contributions to other federal candidates or parties or other committees as well as all loan repayments. For other spending (normal operating expenses, for example or contributions to state or local candidates) specific disbursements must be disclosed when the amount paid to any one vendor exceeds $200 in an election cycle. You can learn more about the reporting requirements for candidates by reviewing the FEC's Campaign Guide
Each row in the file contains information about the committee (and the candidate) that filed the report, along with the name and address of the entity that received the payment, the date and amount of the transaction, a description of its purpose along with links to other transactions that might be associated.
Information is taken from the most recent report submitted for each time period during the election cycle. Campaigns are generally required to file on a quarterly basis, with additional reports submitted just prior to either primary or general elections, and another report coming 30 days after the general election. For electronically filed reports, if a committee submits an original report and then amends that filing at a later date only the transactions from the amended report are included in this file. For committees filing paper reports, the data reflect the most recent reporting of any transaction, whether from a new or an amended filing.
There are some characteristics of reporting that will be important as you use this information. Some transactions, for example, are marked as "memo entries" which means that the dollar amount for these entries was not included in any totals computed by the committee. These are necessary for some simple accounting reasons. For example, when a campaign pays a credit card bill they must report the transaction to the card company along with the lump sum paid for that month. In addition, however, the committee must also list any of the specific charges from that bill if they meet the reporting thresholds - i.e. if the total paid to a particular vendor exceeds $200 during the election cycle. This would mean that the same payment appears twice so one of the elements (in this case the detailed charges) are identified as memos. This will be important if you're calculating totals - be careful not to add both the credit card payments and the specific charges from those bills.
The FEC has also created a blog to discuss features of these files and respond to your questions or comments.
The Candidate disbursement file contains the following information:
|Tag||Field Name||Data Type||Description||Range||Explanation|
|com_id||Committee ID||Character||Character C followed by eight digits||9 characters||Unique nine digit identifier used by the Commission to identify each political committee. In general committee id's begin with the letter C which is followed by eight|
|com_nam||Committee Name||Character||Name of committee or other entity registered with the FEC||Max 90 characters||This is the name of the committee|
|can_id||Candidate ID||Character||9 characters||First character indicates office sought - H=House, S=Senate, P=Presidential. Columns 3-4 are the state abbreviation for Congressional candidates|
|can_nam||Candidate name||Character||Name of the candidate||Max 38 characters||List of all disclosure filings for this committee|
|ele_yea||Election year||Number||4 characters||General election year of the cycle in which this candidate is running|
|can_off||Candidate Office||Text||Office abbreviation||1 character||P=President; S=Senate; H=House|
|can_off_sta||Candidate Office State||Character||Postal abbreviation for State||2 characters|
|can_off_dis||Candidate Office District||Number||District number for House candidates||2 characters|
|lin_num||Line number from Detailed Summary Page of FEC Form 3||Character||category of disbursement based on detailed summary page of FEC Form 3||max 12 characters||Description of Form 3 (See page 6 of these instructions)|
|lin_ima||Link to image presentation||URI||Page where transaction may be viewed as image||11 characters|
|rec_com_id||Recipient Committee ID||Character||Character C followed by eight digits||9 characters||If the disbursement goes to another committee registered with the FEC, this would be the ID number of the committee receiving the payment|
|rec_nam||Recipient Name||Text||max 90 characters||Name of the person or vendor or other entity receiving this payment from the committee|
|rec_str1||Recipient Street Address||Character||Street address of entity being paid||max 34 characters|
|rec_str2||Apt. number or Suite number for recipient||Character||max 34 characters|
|rec_cit||recipient city||Text||max 18 characters|
|rec_sta||recipient state||Text||2 characters||postal state abbreviation|
|rec_zip||recipient zip||Character||max 9 characters||zip code may be either 5 or 9 digits|
|dis_dat||date of disbursement||Date||date of specific disbursement|
|dis_amo||amount of disbursement||Number||amount spent||14.2 characters|
|dis_pur_des||purpose description||max 100 characters||Open-ended description of the purpose of the disbursement.|
|mem_cod||memo code||Character||1 Character||record is "memo" so not included in totals, e.g. specific charges that are also included in an overall credit card payment|
|mem_tex||memo text||Character||max 100 characters||explanation for the memo notation|
|cat_cod||category code||Number||3 characters||see the list of category codes|
|cat_des||category description||Character||max 40 characters||description of category for disbursement|
|tra_id||transaction id||Character||unique identifier for the transaction (unique within the specific report)||max 32 characters|
|bac_ref_id||back reference id||Character||link to another transaction||max 20 characters||"parent" transaction id where there is a relationship between two transactions - e.g. a detailed charge that is part of a credit card payment|