By LAUREN SMITH
Scripps Howard News Service
October 30, 2006
"We have been maxing out our bandwidth for the last week and I think a lot of it has to do with the election coming up," said Massie Ritsch, communication director for the Center for Responsive Politics, a research group that tracks money in politics and its effect on elections and public policy.
Since Oct. 10, the site has registered its biggest traffic days ever, Ritsch said, and hit levels it hadn't seen since the final days of the 2004 presidential elections.
The center's Web site, opensecrets.org, compiles data from the Federal Election Commission and organizes it into a user-friendlier format. It allows people to search their congressman's campaign donations, personal finances, travel expenditures, and much more.
"They're such great resources," Ritsch said. "People really shouldn't enter the voting booth without examining how the candidates they are considering are funded, because that funding ties back to the voter's daily life."
Jock Friedly, founder and president of another online political watchdog, agrees. His newly launched site, legistorm.com, documents congressional staff salaries.
"If you're out in Iowa it's very difficult to find out what your member of Congress is doing in Washington," Friedly said. "You see press releases coming in, or you see stories in a local newspaper that are based on press releases from the member of Congress, but you don't actually know truly what the member of Congress is doing. So sites like this finally enable(voters) to get some basis for understanding what's going on in Washington."
LegiStorm launched in the beginning of September. Before the site was crated, people had to weed through thousands of pages in the document rooms of the House and the Senate in Washington to discover who was being paid what.
"We get a lot of traffic from the Hill, but the majority of the users are from outside Capitol Hill," he said. "We certainly have had quite a number of comments from the public who are very happy to see more information about Congress."
Similarly, the Web site for the Center for Public Integrity, publicintegrity.org, an independent journalism organization that at the end of September released information on campaign consultants and the high cost of campaigns, is also experiencing high volume.
"We know that traffic to our Web site always increases the week before an election, and that is occurring already again this year," Wendell Rawls, the center's interim executive director, said.
"The more information voters have, the more likely they are to vote, and the more information they have, the more insightful their vote is," he said.
Clyde Wilcox, political science professor at Georgetown University, said that while the Web sites are a great resource, voters do not rely solely on them.
Instead, "(The Web sites) affect the campaign through the mediating impact of journalists, civil society groups, and the campaigns themselves."
Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.shns.com
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