Open Secrets

by Carolyn Chase


The absolute most excellent site just showed up on the internet. is "your guide to money in the American elections." You can see charts of where the dollars are coming from by industry, interest and individual and going into federal races: Presidential, Senate and Congress. 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 easy to use and fast. The only potential problem likely 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 businesspeople give and whom 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 and to what political entity they were given. The average giving-per-ZIP code in San Diego County is: $24,596.

      How much political donating is done by large donors to fed races in San Diego County:

Total: $9,624,531
Dems: $3,766,366 45.0%
Reps: $4,504,322 53.8%

      You can get lists of the top ten ZIPs in gross contributions.

      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: 2000: $656,372 (so far) 1998: $96,262;1996: $150,041; 1994: $88,945.

      Disclosure is getting real. What it will mean is less clear.

      Simply by making this information so readily available, unpredictable outcomes will occur. To some degree, I believe 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.

      It certainly allows you to see -- clearer than ever before -- who's paying to fund our federal political campaign process. They have links to state sites. Hopefully, local reporting will become available.

      Every consultant -- and anyone else -- in the world now has a list of everyone's higher-levels donors and you know exactly how much they gave and through what group.

      What will be the impacts on donors themselves? Will some cease financial contributions now that their political investments are revealed to all? How will the ability to follow the money be connected back into the electorate?

      I suspect that this will actually add momentum to campaign finance reform simply because donors will realize they are more than ever before subject to serious "treadmill" effects. Like any basic protection racket, the demands for funding will never end and the requests will always go up. Maybe the time will come when government of the donors, by the donors and for the donors shall diminish from the earth - so that government of the people, by the people and for the people may not actually perish.