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  • Go back to Tracker -- Winter 1998

    Evaluate Politicans with the Center for Responsive Politics
    Ann Kim

    Before becoming executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, Kent C. Cooper had been with the Federal Election Commission for 21 years.

    He saw that more of the money in politics was going unregulated and unreported. Though these activities -- such as issue advertising, lobbying expenses, the control of money by the political parties, and independent expenditures -- were under the FEC's jurisdiction, the Commission was not keeping up with the times.

    CRP, however, is aiming to do just that -- especially with its web site (www.crp.org). The research group hopes to combat the lackadaisical attitude of members of Congress by providing citizens with information that will make them more accountable. By increasing access to information on political contributions and contributors as well as politicians' reporting practices, the site makes it easier for to evaluate the performance of politicians. Reporters can use the site to find information to which they may be cut off or that is not readily accessible through FEC records.

    The Latest Information

    The site, which is under the direction of webmaster Tony Raymond, offers timely resources on money in politics. There are access reports, such as the CRP's most recent, "The Big Picture '95-'96," that documents the huge shift in money to the Republicans that followed their 1994 House victory. CRP also puts frequent updates on their site such as its list of the best and worst politicians in terms of disclosure, the latest soft money contributions, and the latest contributions returned by the DNC.

    Every Monday, CRP offers "Money in Politics Alert," which you can read on CRP's site or have e-mailed to you.

    The site has seven main sections-Politicians, Special Interests, Political Parties, Individual Donors, Regulations, International, and States. Most of these sections feature databases that can be searched through the site.

    Politican's Money

    The Politicians section features information on presidential candidates and members of the U.S. Congress. Want to see who's been giving to Clinton? This section will list inaugural donors and funds as well as housing a database of 1996-96 campaign finance information for presidential candidates and CRP's Coffees and Sleepovers database. The campaign finance database, which is compiled from the latest raw data from the FEC, allows you can look up contributors according to zip codes and date of receipts, contributions from PACs and committees and itemized individual contributions. The Coffees and Sleepovers database lets you search by such categories as name, attendees by state, dates, type of guest.

    The House and Senate profiles are a great place to start evaluating a representative. These profiles include committee assignments, contributions by total receipts and broken down by source. The profiles provide campaign information at several levels of detail. Looking at Missouri Senator Christopher "Kit" Bond's profile, for example, will first tell you that individuals giving more than $200 and PACs (at 50% and 36%, respectively) contributed the bulk of the $4,907,697 he received between 1991-96. The next level of detail will show that "Business" (rather than "Labor," "Ideology" or "Other") was his overwhelming supporter, with combined contributions of those PACs and individuals outspending the combined total of the other categories by more than five times. Among different business sectors, the finance industry outspent the others, giving more than $800,000. "Miscellaneous" business and Agriculture followed, giving $512,028 and $317,386. The next level shows the top contributors (Anheuser-Busch tops the list at $32,750) and industries and interest groups (commercial banks edged out lawyers and law firms at $216,668). The last level lets you see the top donors by industry.

    Boatmen's Bankshares led the financial industry with $18,765 and trailing Anheuser-Busch were McDonell Douglas at $32,485 and Hallmark Cards at $26,991. Contributions by geographic area are also available here. One quarter of individual contributions to Bond come from outside of Missouri.

    The special interests database allows you to see summary data, contributions received and made. Looking up Hallmark Cards, you see that the company has contributed $85,250 during the 1995-96 election cycle, eighty percent of which was given to Republicans. You can also see the total number of contributions (41), how much was given to Democrats and Republicans (20% and 80%, respectively), incumbents and all candidates ($55,750, or 65.40%, and $85,250) and the average contributions to Senate and House candidates ($2868 and $1226, respectively). Summary data lists contributions made and given and summarizes this data.

    Individual donors can be looked up by names, zip code, and occupation/employer. A search on Hallmark shows 101 records that listed Hallmark for occupation/employer for 1995-96. These records give the name of the contributor, amount, date, city/state/zip code, to whom the contribution was made.

    The International section also includes a database. This one carries information on foreign agents registration and includes reported activities and finances, the nature of services rendered, and campaign contributions made. The International Page also links to legal information on foreign money, a report on foreign giving, and the Canadian Lobby Registration site as an example of an Internet filing system.

    Covering the States

    The CRP specializes in money in federal politics, but its research and site incorporate valuable information on the states as well. There are reports, such as "Digital Democracy," which documents how each state's progress in computerizing campaign finance data. CRP is helping increase access to state data by hosting the Public Access Project and Virginia Public Access Project on their site. Also available is gubernatorial information for Wisconsin, Maryland and New Jersey. Additionally, the sitešs States section provides a listing of government personnel for all the states and links to databases for Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, and Virginia, Wisconsin.

    Ann Kim can be reached by e-mail at ann@nicar.org