The Huffington Post's FundRace 2008, which enables users to easily find the names and addresses of contributors to presidential candidates, is a powerful weapon in the arsenal available to the public to understand the complex world of campaign finance.
While newspapers and other websites examine the big picture - how much has been raised and spent overall - FundRace provides a means to look at campaigns from the bottom up.
HuffPost viewers can search specific neighborhoods by zip code, and track the donations of individuals, whether they are friends, enemies, your doctor, dentist, rock stars, bloggers, professors, the neighbor with the barking dog, a suspected closet Republican, your poker buddies, folks who owe you money, your rich uncle, the guy you date, the people who report to you, and the people you report to.
FundRace will give private citizens a chance to augment poll data by providing access to the premier political futures market where people put up real money to bet on election outcomes: Intrade, the Dublin, Ireland-based online electronic prediction market. A number of studies have shown that such markets are more accurate that polls.
Another database provided by FundRace is a tabulation of each candidate's MySpace mentions, YouTube views and Facebook friends. These are less predictive than the trends on Intrade, but each is a useful measure of campaign intensity and enthusiasm.
The zip code search engine on FundRace provides concrete evidence of how much more influence the rich exercise than the poor. Look at such upscale communities as Greenwich, Conn., 06830, Beverly Hills, 90210; or a swath of Manhattan's upper east side, 10021.
If money is power, the folks in these zip codes have got it in spades -- and they use it by the bucketful. In Beverly Hills, for example, there have been 543 donations totaling $1,212,014 to 2008 presidential candidates, including 326 contributions of $2,300 or more. (Primary contributions are limited by federal election law to $2,300 per candidate.)
Across town, in contrast, in dirt-poor South Central Los Angeles, zip 90011, a grand total of three people have given $4,250 total. This is 0.2 percent of what Beverly Hills gave.
Similarly, eastside Manhattan's 10021 - the single best source of campaign cash in the country, ranking first or second with every major presidential candidate -- has produced $4.3 million in 2056 donations. A couple of miles away in the Bronx's 10056, there have been, to date, no contributions whatsoever.
Many lines of inquiry are open to the public through FundRace. It is possible, for example, to use FundRace to see if a major trend in the North and West -- the growing strength of the Democratic Party in affluent, close-in suburbs - has been expanding into other regions, like the South
Take super-rich River Oaks, described by Forbes Magazine as "Houston's version of Beverly Hills...the city's most exclusive neighborhood."
Looking at contributors on FundRace from the River Oaks' 77019 zip code, there may be grounds for concern among the Republican Old Guard: fully a quarter of the top 200 givers put their money into a Democratic campaign.
In fact, just taking the top 24 donations from River Oaks, those who maxed out by giving $4,600 ($2,300 for the primary and $2,300 for the general election), reveals that Democratic presidential candidates crushed the Republican opposition, $64,400 to $46,000. Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani tied for first, with $36,800 each; followed by Barack Obama, $13,800; John Edwards, $9,200; and $4,600 each for Joe Biden, John McCain and Mitt Romney.
While 50 of the top 200 donors in River Oak were Democrats, there does not appear to be a similar invasion by Republicans into deep blue Cambridge, Mass., 02138. There, only 25 of the top 200 contributed to Republican candidates; furthermore, one of these GOP candidates, Mitt Romney, had a home state advantage.
Obama is the runaway favorite in Cambridge. Taking the top 100 donations from 02138, fully 58 went to the Illinois Senator.
Digging a little further into the data shows that the faculty at Harvard Law School , Obama's alma mater, are coming across nicely. Professors Charles Barzun, Martha Minow, Joseph Singer, and David Wilkins have all given $4,600, the legal limit, while Robert Mnookin, Laurence Tribe, and Alvin Warren have topped out for the primary, at $2,300.
There is, of course, another way to look at campaign contributions: who are the beneficiaries of those who specialize in influencing policy, i.e., lobbyists and their ilk.
Not everyone knows the names of lobbyists, but one good way to start is to search the Washington zip codes where lobbyists cluster, including 20002 and 20003 on Capitol Hill, and 20036 covering much of downtown.
What shows up on the top of the list for 20003? Andrea Jones, listed as executive director of the Walt Disney Company, is first, with a $4,800 donation to McCain (the campaign will have to give her back $200). Mary Whalen, a Credit Suisse attorney, gave Edwards $4,600 and another $4,600 to Clinton; Liz Robbins, of Liz Robbins Associates, gave Clinton $4,600; Randall Gerard, a lobbyist at the Podesta Group, gave $2,300 to McCain.
Over at 20036, Akin Gump, the lobbying-law firm powerhouse, dominates the big givers, with Silvia de Leon, Vic Fazio and his wife Judy, Joel and Carol Jankowsky, and Sukhan Kim, each giving the $4,600 maximum to Clinton.
These are just a few of the avenues to be explored on FundRace, a tool that promises to substantially enlarge public understanding of who is giving and who is getting.
More Huffington Post FundRace 2008 Features:
Huffington Post's FundRace 2008 Shows You The Media Money
Huffington Post's FundRace 2008 Shows You The Business Money
Huffington Post's FundRace 2008 Shows You The Entertainment Money
Huffington Post's FundRace 2008 Shows You The Green Money