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27 Oct 2012

Easy Ways to Follow the (Political) Money

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One of the biggest factors in today's political process is money.

No ... that's not right. Let me try again: By far, the biggest factor in today's political process is money.

The candidates who have it have a shot; the candidates that don't (including, I hate to say it, the vast majority of third-party candidates, good or bad), don't.

For a voter to be truly informed, he or she should look at where the candidates are getting their dough.

First, a caveat: The Citizens United U.S. Supreme Court decision has made it more difficult than ever to truly follow the money. In today's political world, some so-called PACs and business leagues and whatnot do not have to disclose their contributors, and those PACs/leagues can turn around and support or oppose any candidate or issue. The only "rule" is that the PACs can't "coordinate" with candidates' campaigns. Yeah, whatever.

Still, it's important for an informed voter to know who's funding the campaigns for the candidates. Here are several fantastic websites to help people do just that:

  • OpenSecrets.org. This site is a gold mine of info of candidates for federal office, and it's easy to use. You can search for campaign-contribution info on any candidate. Under the "Politicians and Elections" section, you can click "Get Local," input your zip code, and get a wealth of data--on both who's giving, and who's receiving. Input Indio's 92203, for example, and you can see that through Oct. 21, $45,601 had been donated from the zip code. Further link-clicking can get you more info. For example: Did you know that CKE Restaurants--the folks who own Carl's Jr.--are the biggest contributor to Republican Rep. Mary Bono Mack's campaign, to the tune of $16k? And who's the biggest donator to her Democratic opponent, Raul Ruiz? Why, it's Emergency Medical Physicians ($20,250).
  • Maplight.org. On a state level, this is a fine source ... that is, it's a fine source if/when the site is updated. Right now, the site only includes contributions through May 19, and it does not reflect the redistricting that was completed this year. Still, there's some interesting data to be had. We can learn, for example, that Republican State Sen. Bill Emmerson's top contributing interest group is public sector unions; they've given him more than $70,000. On the not-so-good side, tobacco companies have donated $21,475. Eek.
  • The Federal Election Commission. For federal races, sometimes, it's best to go straight to the source. The site's clunky, but it's updated quickly, and that's a good thing.

There are a variety of other sources out there, too, but these three offer a great start.

 

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