Tracking the Elusive Candidate with the Federal Election Commission

Whenever I am working on a search, I try to identify candidates by using unusual sources of information. I’ve come to appreciate sources I used to access as a journalist that are not typically accessed by recruiters. It gives my recruiting an edge in helping me come across undiscovered executive talent. Internet search engines only produce what is out there to begin with. If an organization is intentionally keeping some of its best executives under wraps, you won’t find mention of them in articles, on corporate websites, or as speakers at conferences. Perhaps the hidden executive is responsible for all the innovations claimed by their immediate superior basking in the limelight. Perhaps he is so busy he doesn’t have time to evangelize by giving speeches at conferences or joining industry organizations. Perhaps the CEO prefers to serve as primary spokesman for the company. All of those possibilities cause outstanding candidates to remain off-radar ó unless you know more unusual places to look, places which have nothing to do with the publicity track. One such place is the database of the Federal Election Commission. Twenty five years ago, Congress created the FEC to administer and enforce the Federal Election Campaign Act, which governs campaign finance. The independent regulatory agency discloses finance information, enforces contribution limits and prohibitions, and oversees the public funding of Presidential elections. Whenever an individual makes a federal campaign contribution, the SEC records the event, along with the corporate affiliation of the contributor. So let’s take a trip to the FEC website:

  1. Type the web address into your Internet browser:
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  3. Click on the “Campaign Finance Reports and Data” link on the left-hand column.
  4. Click on “Search Campaign Finance Data.”
  5. Click on “Candidate PAC and Party Summaries.”
  6. Type “Microsoft” into the name field.
  8. Click on “Individual Contributions.” Voila! The search engine pulls up 611 individual contributions for just the 2000/2001 election cycle.
  9. Drill down by entering the first name listed, “Abrash, Michael”, into the Google search engine. You quickly learn Michael was one of the developers of “Quake” ó a god in the computer game world. He was hired by Microsoft to work on Xbox, Microsoft’s answer to the Atari video game console.
  10. Skip-trace his name in the Merlin Flat Rate database (see my previous article on skip-tracing). Bingo. You pull up Michael’s unlisted phone number and address in Plano, Texas.

Michael Abrash is an example of someone who is easy to background once you have a name. But you wouldn’t necessarily come across him without it. Often, if you don’t have the name or precise title of an executive or senior technologist, you can’t find them in Google because you pull up too many records. Try typing in “Microsoft” and “SDE Lead” (Michael’s title) in Google, and watch your head explode. But the really neat thing about the FEC database is it not only gives you the names of employees, it also gives you the titles as well. When starting a search, ask yourself what government agency has dealings with that business or with individuals working there, then check to see if the data exists online. The FEC is a great place to start. The nice thing about checking government records is that so many of them exist. Just think about the points of contact any individual has with government: voter registration, driver’s licenses, divorce court, the IRS. At each of those points of contact exists a record ó the famed bureaucratic red tape about which everyone complains. Only this time, don’t complain! The information can be used to a recruiter’s advantage.

Krista Bradford ( is the founder and CEO of The Good Search, an innovative retained executive search firm that delivers top talent clients never dreamed existed. Bradford also leads the firm's talent acquisition research and intelligence division, Intellerati, which offers services in support of corporate executive search and recruiting teams as well as diversity talent pools, succession benches, and custom intelligence that gleans competitive insights from the talent ecosystem. Prior to founding her firm more than a decade ago, Bradford served as an Emmy Award- winning investigative reporter and television journalist. She studied at Harvard University and Columbia University, ultimately obtaining her BA at The New School. Bradford is a noted recruiting industry expert, national speaker, and columnist. Her blog "The Investigative Recruiter" is counted among the recruiting industry’s Top 20 blogs.