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Internet Spying on Political Contributions- Made Easy with a Click

by Wayne Porter

Did you know that at the click of a mouse people can easily and rapidly retrieve information on the political donations their neighbors have made? The law stipulates that anyone who contributes "hard money" to political campaigns must provide personal information. The reason for this requirement is that it limits the political influence of anonymous contributors can have. It also allows the public to track financial contributions that may influence political processes.

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As an example using these online research tools we are able to find out Dustin Hoffman, an actor residing at 11661 San Vicente Blvd made a $2000.00 contribution to the Kerry campaign. . This information digging isn't limited to Mr. Hoffman alone but it can be used to find out information on any number of famous people and what campaigns they have supported through donations.

Tools of The Trade

OpenSecrets The Center for Responsive Politics is a non-partisan, non-profit research group based in Washington, D.C. The Center conducts computer-based research on campaign finance issues for the news media, academics, activists, and the public at large. You can find state research but you will find even more interesting information using their individual search. Open Secrets not only offers the ability to search the 2004 elections but contribution cycles dating back to 1990. Open Secrets provide the ability to search soft money contributions as well. Soft money is money given to political parties that is unregulated under federal law. A researcher can also sort by zip code, year and donation amount allowing someone who wants to snoop the ability to hone in with razor precision.

The FundRace: This resource site was created by the Eyebeam R&D research group in effort to see how contributions shape elections. You can see interesting relationships by using their city mapping tool as well as check out individual data with their neighborhood search. FundRace states that all calculations are based on records filed with the FEC of contributions by all individuals totaling more than $200 (and some totaling less than $200) to a single Republican or Democratic presidential campaign or national committee between January 1, 2003 and October 13, 2004.

The Voters' Self Defense Manual contains a sampling of the Project Vote Smart online database with information on Congressional members' voting records, interest group ratings, campaign contributions, and contact information. This is not really spy material but certainly a great resource if you want to see what the members of Congress are doing.

While it is important for these contributions to be public it is also a bit scary to know that people can find out your political leanings and how much money you are willing to throw at them. People should realize it is trivial to do a search on any zip code and triangulate in on an individual's political contributions. They not only know the amount and the address but also the occupation of the donor. From this point it is easy to use a service like Google Earth to get a snapshot of one's home.

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