WatchSonoma Watch

HERTZ: Where to find the links between money and politics

Richard Hertz


A government for protecting business only, is but a carcass, and soon falls by its own corruption and decay” – Amos Bronson Alcott (Educator, Writer 1799 – 1888)

In order to help reduce the influence special interest groups have on lawmakers, the single most important step individuals can take is to learn more about which groups are financially supporting the candidates they’ll be voting on.

Recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions now effectively permit anonymous and unlimited campaign contributions. As critics feared, this has set off a whole new political arms race.

But even though an increasing percentage of campaign contributions are more difficult to identify, it is still no secret where a lot of money and free everything comes from and goes to. Though they are by no means the only good sources for learning about the financial links between interest groups and candidates, the websites below do an outstanding job of making those connections:

OpenSecrets.org does a great job of categorizing campaign contributions made to those running for President and Congress.

FollowtheMoney.org provides similar summary information on candidates for statewide offices, state legislative seats and ballot measures.

Legistorm.com is the go-to site to see which Members of Congress accept the most free travel and gifts from special interests and foreign governments. All of these websites also provide other vital information about money and politics.

Summarizing campaign contributions into categories is important because otherwise the information would be meaningless to the average voter. Here are two links to the type of summary information available on opensecrets.org. Clicking on Barack Obama will let you see which industries or groups were his biggest contributors in his 2008 Presidential campaign. This John McCain link shows the same information for his campaign. Pretty straightforward, right?

Now [here] is a link to the California Secretary of State website. Pick any candidate and see if you can figure out the same summary information we saw on opensecrets.org. This would be very time consuming because the contributions are listed individually and in multiple reports. It would be like trying to describe what a beach looks like one grain of sand at a time.

In the ancient times before the Internet, when a news organization wanted to analyze the main sources of a candidate’s campaign contributions, they had to send reporters into the bowels of government buildings armed with adding machines for days at a time.

That’s why websites like the ones I mentioned are so valuable today. Unfortunately, most voters don’t know about them. Also, many believe that all politicians are captives of special interests so examining which industries or groups support a particular candidate to them seems unnecessary.

It is unnecessary, as long as we don’t mind more of the same special interest-driven policies that got us here. But if we want representatives who are less indebted to special interests, checking out who financially supports candidates must become a more important part of our election decision-making.

Bodega Bay resident Richard Hertz owns Hertz Research, which conducts polling for news organizations, public agencies, businesses and other organizations.

15 Responses to “HERTZ: Where to find the links between money and politics”

  1. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    I’m surprised at the posts that regularly attack the Press Democrat as a liberal newspaper. I guess that’s the PD is always attacking unions, public employees’ pensions and benefits, and liberal candidates like Allen and others.

    Even Golis is a little conservative at times. There is a middle road and people in this country need to find it, whether left or right. Unfortunately, looking at the quality of the current Republicans in office rightwing freako is the politics of today and ignorance is admired in a Republican candidate. Even if you look at conservative politics THESE CANDIDATES DON’T EVEN COME CLOSE TO BEING QUALIFIED FOR PRESIDENT. I’m even beginning to miss DOLE FOR PRESIDENT (not that I voted for him). At least he talked intelligently, was practical, and was clearly an AMERICAN PATRIOT.

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  2. Graeme Wellington says:

    The only solution is to limit all political offices to one term only, and all laws enacted at any level must sunset so that they must be periodically renewed. No more running for re-election in office. In fact you can’t run for office if you hold office. Once you complete a term, then you can be eligible to run for something else… but never the same office twice. You need to print new two kinds of currency, one that only has value inside the United States and another that can only be spent outside the United States. The international wire transfer system would be severely restricted and limited to eliminate third party beneficiaries. Political system fixed. Drug and money laundering fixed. Democracy restored. No pollster spin required.

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  3. Social Dis-Ease says:

    When the line between the private sector and the public sector is this blurry.
    When corporatocracy is allowed to run amuck.
    When the law now provides for unlimited anonymous contributions to candidates.
    When we allow the term public/private partnership to be incrementally introduced into our accepted government language.

    Well, they have a name for that kind of society.

    Starts with an F.

    If that dark faction had not ‘slipped in’ the federal reserve while a lot of Congress was on holiday.
    If the citizens had proactively insisted that the Constitution be strictly adhered to in every step of our history.

    If we had not put our civic responsibility in neutral and ass-umed that our leaders would look after our interests.

    is the biggest word in the dictionary.

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  4. Kay Tokerud says:

    Graeme is right, the Hertz column is the most annoying thing yet to be included on Watch Sonoma. Some pollster that I looked up that is clearly a supporter of President Obama and in my opinion has an extreme bias in that direction. I don’t trust polls at all because it’s so easy to skew them by how the questions are asked. And who counts the votes? The pollsters, obviously. Get this guy out of here and if he wants to opine, let him be subject to the same up or down vote that everyone else has to be subjected to. I give him a thumbs down on all his posts so far.

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  5. Smelly Fish says:

    @ Graeme…

    Interesting point. This would be highly unethical and unprofessional to say the least. I sometimes may not agree with these people but hope that they would not be involved in such an activity.

    @ Editors..would you please comment on Graeme’s post. Thanks.

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  6. Graeme Wellington says:

    I’m noticing these columns are so similar to previous columns in style and content that it is possible Hertz’ face and byline is on these as some kind of ruse so that we don’t summarily dismiss them as we automatically do for Golis, Gullickson, Sweeney, etc., but they are actually written by the regular PD staff.

    Soon, they will start slipping in democrat talking points as “solutions” for our political system. Wait for it.

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  7. sarkyfish says:

    Scintillating writing, like watching poll numbers oscillate up and down in tiny increments. One assumes that Sweeney and Gullixson think Hertz is a brilliant addition. Does he do polls for the PD?

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  8. Reality Check says:


    Do you decide who to vote for based on who donated money to a candidate? There are more important things to consider, I believe.

    Transparency in politics is good. It shouldn’t, however, trump other rights. Nor should we buy the argument that special interest influence is a core problem facing us. It’s inherent in a government that spends 25% of GDP.

    The PACs you complain about are the result of numerous other laws that choked off open and direct contributions. We’d be better off returning to the old days.

    This is mostly a distraction from issues that matter more.

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  9. Lets be Reasonable says:

    @RC – yes, we all belong to special interest groups, but the problem now is that it is possible to funnel unlimited funds to PACs completely anonymously…how does this help transparency in government?

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  10. Graeme Wellington says:

    Another problem description. So knowing who gets the most money will solve our political system? We got that already. Again, this is a rehash of Golis columns we’ve read dozens of times already.

    No solution yet Hertz.

    Wellington 2′ Hertz 0

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  11. Paul I. says:

    My god you go back to the Bosco Days. Talk about your clients a little to put it into perspective could you. Like 80s to now, just like the 80s in Sonoma with more people.

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  12. Reality Check says:

    Ah, if only we could rid special interests from politics, then all would be right with the world.

    Nonsense. Each and everyone of of us is a member of several special interest groups. Our complaints are rarely about more than someone else is better at getting favors from government than we are.

    Ask any senior whether they oppose special interest groups in politics. Then point out that no special interest group is better at getting money from government than our seasoned citizens. Well, but, that’s different. It always is.

    Whether we’re talking about energy companies, public employee unions, and so on, our interests are more legitimate.

    The fix will come only when people stop looking at government as their own personal piggy bank.

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  13. David says:

    A simple question for Mr Hertz: Do you consider unions to be a special interest group?

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  14. As a first time candidate for CA State Assembly it’s interesting to see the amount of fear based around money. I want to have CA certified Canada medical websites this would save 50-75% off medications, save $1000′s for seniors and be safe to use. The first thought from people around me is I would make enemies of drug companies and their money would go to others candidates who play it safe.

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  15. Serious Big Fish says:

    Thanks for the info Mr. Hertz however, the question remains how to correct the system when the corrupt politicans couldn’t care less especially the higher ups like presidents and vp’s. Only a rare few senators and congressmen get caught and get a one year spanking but they still have the millions and the taxpayers have not been served. How to do you get the high level crooks who defend each other when caught. It’s a game for life and if you squeal it’s your last breath.

    What about the real money that causes corruption. The unreported funneled money from foreign countries and global interests. Special interests smart and big enough to hide the money to benefit their interests using American politicans, our military,son and daughters and culture to achieve their goals. Smart politicans who know the game like the Clintons, Bushs and now Obama look and respond to the big money. With Clinton, what happened to the $50 M seized by US from Jean Bertrand Aristide of Haiti.In 1989 Clinton was making $40K a year as governor and now worth over 150M and heads up a “global” organization. After the earthquake in Haiti Clinton jumped right in for the loot. What about the Bush’s and Sauda Arabia. What about the lost billions in Eygpt and Libya? Do you think some of that money may find it’s way into the 2012 election? Do you think American presidents would spend taxpayer money and risk American lives for their own personal gain??? Just look at what’s happening today in Sonoma County from illegal immigration, the Smart train, over funded liabilities and so on. 5% of the people with only a few indivuals making the calls get all the benefits while the 95% pay the way and ruin the north coast.

    Again thanks for your efforts but the culture of corruption is sysmetic to the core. Honest, intelligent, dedicated, ethical people don’t have a chance in political leadership. With your experince in politics name one person in Sonoma County that is beyond approach. Our societal problems are beyond a democratic or republican issue. It’s a disease. The Tea Party and the 99%ers have allot in common but their is not communication or leadership between the two.

    Look forward to next article.


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