While talking campaign finance with Martin O'Malley and Bernie Sanders during the third Democratic debate, Hillary Clinton claimed that only 3 percent of her donations came from the financial sector. To buttress this claim, she directed viewers to OpenSecrets.org, a non-profit website that tracks donations to candidates and politicians. If you want to find out who Hillary Clinton's donors are, OpenSecrets is indeed a good source — but it's still hard to assess whether or not Clinton was telling the truth.
The problem here is that there are a whole lot of ambiguities in what Clinton actually said. Does "3 percent of donations" refer to total dollars donated, or total instances in which somebody donated money to Clinton's campaign? That's a very big difference. Was she talking about federal or state-level donations, or both? Which industries and employers does she consider "financial"? And crucially, was she including donations to her super PACs, or just her official campaign committee?
Unfortunately, Clinton wasn't clear what she meant during the debate; in essence, she was making a claim so vague, it couldn't be verified. That said, let's give it a shot, and let's look at the total number of dollars donated, not the total number of instances in which money was donated.
According to OpenSecrets, Clinton's official campaign apparatus has raised around $77 million to date, and about $2.9 million of that came from people in the financial industry. That comes out to about 3.76 percent, which is pretty close to the 3 percent figure Clinton cited. But that's the official Clinton campaign. Clinton-aligned super PACs and hybrid PACs have raised around $20 million to help elect Hillary, and about $3.5 million of that — or 17 percent of total PAC money — came from donors in the financial industry.
If we include both official campaign contributions and donations to PACs, the end result is that about 5 percent of Clinton's donations came from the financial sector. That's not too far off from the 3 percent she claimed — but there's a big, big catch. According to OpenSecrets, only 60 percent of total PAC contributions were actually tagged according to which industry they came from. As a result, $12 million of her total donations are unaccounted for. If every bit of that money came from the financial world — which, to be clear, is most likely not the case — that would mean the financial sector contributed roughly 17 percent of Clinton's overall donations.
But again, that's purely speculative. What we do know is that at least 5 percent of Clinton's donations — that is, the total amount donated — came from the financial industry, and that number could be higher.
While this still leaves some big gaps in our knowledge about Clinton's campaign contributions, it nevertheless illustrates how useful OpenSecrets can be for anybody who's curious about where a candidate's money is coming from. There was a point in time when the only way to get this information was to dig through mountains of FEC filings. Now, it's just a click away.