Open Secrets

Now you can find out exactly who's buying, er, financing our elections.

by Carolyn Chase

he absolute most excellent site just showed up on the internet. 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?

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. For instance, in the Bilbray/Davis Congressional race here are the latest listings:

Susan A. Davis (D-Calif)
  92037 (La Jolla, CA) $74,875
  92103 (San Diego, CA) $60,210
  92014 (Del Mar, CA)  $31,147 
  92116 (San Diego, CA)  $24,420 
  92101 (San Diego, CA)  $23,300 
  92120 (San Diego, CA)  $12,550 
  92067 (Rancho Santa Fe, CA)  $11,650 
  92122 (San Diego, CA)  $11,600 
  23233 (Richmond, VA)  $10,000 
  92130 (San Diego, CA)  $9,200 
Brian P. Bilbray (R-Calif) 
  92037 (La Jolla, CA)  $63,500 
  92067 (Rancho Santa Fe, CA)  $39,750 
  92118 (Coronado, CA)  $26,650 
  92106 (San Diego, CA)  $21,800 
  92064 (Poway, CA)  $19,750 
  92103 (San Diego, CA)  $13,500 
  92109 (San Diego, CA)  $12,500 
  92101 (San Diego, CA)  $10,350 
  92014 (Del Mar, CA)  $7,950 
  91902 (Bonita, CA)  $7,500 

Listings by "Top Metro Area" allows you to see money coming from inside and outside the area.

Susan A. Davis (D-Calif) 
  San Diego, CA  $376,042 
  Los Angeles-Long Beach, CA  $27,308 
  San Francisco, CA  $11,250 
  New York, NY  $11,250 
  Richmond-Petersburg, VA  $10,000 
Brian P. Bilbray (R-Calif)
  San Diego, CA $370,740 
  Washington, DC-MD-VA-WV  $13,975 
  Orange County, CA  $11,550 
  Seattle-Bellevue-Everett, WA  $6,000 
  San Francisco, CA  $4,800 

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.

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.