By 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.