by Carolyn Chase
he absolute most excellent site just showed up on the internet. www.opensecrets.org is "your guide to money in the American elections." You can find charts of where the dollars are coming from - by industry, interest and individual and going into presidential, senate and congressional races. You can even chart how much is given (from the universe of contributions of $200 or more) by plugging in any ZIP code.
For instance, when you plug in 92037 (La Jolla), you learn that $1,681,766 has been given ("so far") in the Y2K election cycle. Donations are tracked from the 98 ($921,979), 96 ($1,071,014 ) and 94 ($717,258) federal elections.
The site is fast and easy to use. The only potential problem in the frenzied weeks before the election is too much traffic, slowing down access rates.
At the click of a mouse you get a complete list of $200+ donors, amounts, and where the donation was directed. You can now discern your neighbors politics online. You can see which business people give and how much. It's really quite educational. We have never before been able to so easily and instantly see who's money is going where. They are also sorted by industry, labor and ideology categories.
You can see how ZIPs are voting with dollars in the presidential race (92037: Bush, George W. $103,100 / Gore, Al $59,650, all others: $94,700). "The San Diego dollars voting in the Presidential race are voting in the main for Bush."
You can see the list of the "ten biggest checks" from any zip code and to which political entity they were given. The average giving-per-ZIP code in San Diego County: $24,596.
How much political donating is done by large donors to federal races in San Diego County?
You can get lists of the top ten ZIPs in gross contributions. For instance, in the Bilbray/Davis Congressional race here are the latest listings:
Listings by "Top Metro Area" allows you to see money coming from inside and outside the area.
They rate the "quality of disclosure" of the candidates - sorting their reported information in percentages of full disclosure, incomplete disclosure and no disclosure.
Times are good. Donations in all the ZIPs I randomly checked were up, up, up from even '96, the last general presidential election. Checking into my little ZIP code, 92109 (Pacific Beach), the increase is dramatic:
Disclosure is getting real. What it will mean is less clear.
It certainly allows you to see - clearer than ever before who's paying to fund our federal political campaign process. Every consultant in the world now has a list of everyone's higher-levels donors, and you know exactly how much they gave. I suspect that this will actually add momentum to campaign limits, simply because donors will realize they are now subject to serious "treadmill" effects. The demands for funding never end and they always go up.
What will be the impact on donors themselves? Will some cease financial contributions now that their political investments are revealed to all?
Simply by making this information so readily available, unpredictable outcomes will occur. Those outcomes will be more apparent in the next cycle, rather than this one. There is so much information that it will take some time for people to absorb and interpret the connections between the funding sources, conduits and outcomes.