Watchdog group launches campaign finance web site

A national watchdog organization unveiled Monday a web site — www.cleanupwashington.org — that details the source of campaign money for members of Congress in California and nine other states.

At a time when members of Congress are going to prison and pleading guilty to federal crimes related to campaign finances, Public Citizen director Joan Claybrook called the information vital for voters who want to know whether elected leaders represent the interests of the people or big business.

“Our report details that Congress is awash in campaign money,” Claybrook said during a telephone press conference Monday morning.

The web site allows viewers to rank, by member in each state, contributions from lobbyists, acceptance of privately funded travel, money from individuals who live out of the member’s state and contributions of $200 or less as a percentage of all cash received.

Other sites provide some of this information but this is the first group to compile all of these categories and rank members in a single online location.

Public Citizen staff says that members of Congress rely too heavily on special interest money, which has resulted in legislation that favors big businesses such as oil and pharmaceutical companies over the public interest.

Among its California findings, Public Citizen reports:

Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Bakersfield, raised $2.6 million in the 2004 election despite lacking an opponent. Thomas received the highest amount of political action committee contributions per cycle in the state.

Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Redlands, tops the state’s congressional delegation in contributions from lobbyists since 2000, average $172,248 per election cycle.

The California analysis also singles out representatives John Doolittle, R-Granite Bay, and
Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, for paying members of their families to work on their campaigns.

Public Citizen, based in Washington, D.C., is one of the leading proponents of publicly financed campaigns and considered a liberal organization by most conservative groups.

“Reform is urgently needed,” Claybrook said, “so that candidates can spend less time raising money and more time serving the public.”