Ron Kahlow: The Meager Counter Balance to Money in Politics

Many voters are frustrated and outraged by the $6 billion being spent in deceptive political advertising, attack ads, and robo calls. Unfortunately, there is only a meager counter balance to this massive expenditure.

Only three organizations — Project Vote Smart, League of Women Voters, and Vote USA — currently are available to provide voters with non-partisan information. A fourth, eVoter.com, recently terminated due to lack of money. The three still standing attempt to provide voters what they need to vote their interests, not those of special interests groups spending the $6 Billion. Unfortunately, all three are grossly underfunded and out gunned. Yes, voters may only have a sling shot against this Moneyed Goliath but, if they use it well, it may make a substantial difference.

The first, League of Women Voters (LWV.org) is a league of 51 different LWV organizations, one for each state and DC. It was founded in 1920 to ratify the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution providing women the right to vote at the convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. League members were encouraged to be political themselves, by educating citizens about, and lobbying for, government and social reform legislation. Another objective is to provide non-partisan voter information and, for decades, LWV has been mailing sample ballots to voters. With the advent of the Internet, LWV developed a single Vote411 website where it attempts to provide voters with targeted information about the candidates in each voter’s various Federal and State contests. When this information is not available on its website (probably due to redistricting), it provides links to State and county voter guides.

The second, Project Vote Smart (VoteSmart.org), was founded in 1986 by U.S. Senators Barry Goldwater, John McCain, George McGovern, and Congressperson Geraldine Ferraro. At that time, Senator Barry Goldwater dropped out of politics because campaigns had changed where candidates spent their time and energy raising money and not on matters of public concern. Oddly, after a quarter of a century, little has changed. The mission of Project Vote Smart was to be a trusted, independent source of information about candidates, regardless of the citizen’s political point of view and relevant to their own unique interests. In 1988, on $40,000 of contributions from its board, including Senator William Proxmire and Congressman Jim Leach, Project Vote Smart launched a phone bank of 8 telephones, 24 hours a day, for two months for only two States. This provided North Carolina and Nebraska voters with candidate biographical information, campaign finances, issue positions, and voting records.

Over the years, Project Vote Smart gained traction with corporate foundation money and universities for its hundreds of student volunteers. Then, in 2004, it found a permanent home high in the Rockies at a place called One Common Ground in Philipsburg, Montana. In this new facility, Project Vote Smart has grown and now primarily uses the Internet in its attempt to cover the candidates for all Federal and State election contests.

The latest, Vote USA (Vote-USA.org), was launched in 2003 by the founder of an Internet services agency named Business OnLine (businessol.com). When the founder went to vote in November 2003, he found a list of candidate names and ballot measures which he had never seen prior to entering the voting booth. To fix the problem, he founded Vote USA. The organization developed a website that provides a customized sample ballot based on any voter’s postal address. But, rather than just providing a list of names, the ballot provides pictures, candidate website links, and social media links. Supporting pages compare candidates’ bios and their position and views on issues, all side-by-side. Like Internet search engines, Vote USA makes it quick and easy for a voter to obtain the information he or she is seeking.

Independent voters could tip the balance in a lot of upcoming election contests. These three websites are a great resource for these voters. They are for voters who ignore the political bombardment and want to decide for themselves. They are not for voters who just vote the party ticket. But, the extent, that independent voters will use any of these three websites and support them financially, in the next two weeks remains to be seen.

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