In the Spotlight

News & Features
Election 1996

By Jon Gordon, No. 1/May 30,1996

Welcome to the first edition of The Race in Cyberspace - a column that will guide you through significant events and places on the Internet relating to Campaign '96.

Our first stop is "FEC Info." It's a World Wide Web site that lets you easily investigate where candidates for U.S. Senate and House races are getting their money.

One of the site's administrators is Tony Raymond, who worked for the Federal Elections Commission for 18 years. He left the agency recently but he still wades deep into data about individual and Political Action Committee contributions to candidates in his free time. Raymond says he's offering the FEC data on the Web because he believes people have a right to follow the money in American elections.

"The Web page is basically a way for any citizen to access campaign data, says Raymond. "The FEC makes a lot of the data available but they put it out there in very large databases. So unless you're a computer geek like me you have a tough time crunching the numbers and making sense of the data."

Using Raymond's Web site, you can find out who's giving money - and how much - to Senate candidates Paul Wellstone, Rudy Boschwitz, and Bert McKasy. Or look up a House race. Or if you're feeling a little snoopy, you can key in your Zip code and see to which candidate your neighbors are contributing.

University of Minnesota political science professor Frank Sauraf says the public has a right to know about the finances of political candidates. But he has a cautionary word about the danger of candidates having to disclose such information.

"Disclosure works to exaggerate the motives, or to imply motives in giving (to candidates) that may not be there," Sauraf says. "Implicit in a lot of people's view of disclosure is the idea that people want something with their money. And a lot of people give two hundred, three hundred, four hundred dollars and don't want very much. What many of them want is a like minded man or woman in public office. And they really don't want anything more than that."