Internet donation information makes some Aspenites uneasy
Aspen CO, Colorado
ASPEN, Colorado ” If you Google “Margaret DeWolf,” the very first thing you learn is that the Aspen resident gave $2,500 to Democratic presidential candidate Bill Richardson.
Campaign contributions long have been a matter of public record. But in the years before the Internet search engine, those who wanted the information had to do a little digging.
With the onset of the digital age, federal campaign contribution information quite often rises to the top of an Internet name search. The reason appears to be the existence of several popular campaign contribution information projects on the Huffington Post, Newsmeat and CampaignMoney. The projects are designed to make campaign contributions searchable by name or ZIP code, providing information to those willing to perform a search.
“Want to know if a celebrity is playing both sides of the fence? Whether that new guy you’re seeing is actually a Republican or just dresses like one?” asks the Huffington Post on its Fundrace page.
But because of the websites’ popularity and accessibility through search engines, the contribution information (for citizens who have given beyond the websites’ $200 threshold) is also readily available to those who aren’t necessarily looking for it.
DeWolf said she doesn’t care “one way or the other” that her contributions are public. But other Aspenites say the ubiquity of the information makes them uncomfortable.
“I have to admit the first time that I did Google my name and saw all my political contributions come up, I was shocked,” Aspen resident Anne Gurchick said. “It made me very uncomfortable.”
Last year, Gurchick gave $550 to Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, according to Newsmeat. Now, that is the first thing you learn about her when you search for her name on Google.
But after revelations about Edwards’ affair, Gurchick said she is embarrassed about her donation ” and concerned that the record of her contribution is so readily available, and will be for the foreseeable future. As a cancer survivor herself, Gurchick said she is particularly upset that Edwards cheated on his wife, who has long battled breast cancer.
“My name will be associated with John Edwards from now on,” she said.
She also pointed out that since the information is presented on several different websites, many of which come up high on a Google search, it initially appears that she’s made numerous donations.
Aspenite Roxanne Willsky made a 2004 contribution of $250 to Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, information that is the first hit in a search for her name. She said she isn’t surprised that people can find her contribution information easily.
“I’m aware of the fact that if one gives a certain amount, it’s in the public domain,” she said.
But Gurchick said that she had no idea the information would become so public.
“If I knew that if I donated $500 to a candidate, it would be splashed all over the Internet, I don’t know that I would have donated the $500,” she said. She added that while she believes the information should be public, she doesn’t believe it should be quite as public as it is.
Gurchick used property taxes as an example of information that she thinks is appropriately public. If someone wants to find out how much she pays, she noted, they can ” but the information doesn’t come up anytime someone Googles her name.
To the surprise and chagrin of one local resident, who asked to remain anonymous, his $2,000 contribution to President George Bush in 2004 was the second offering under a search for his name (with quotation marks around it). He said he made the contribution as a favor to his father-in-law, who did not want to exceed the $2,300 limit. Until being contacted by a reporter, he did not realize the long-ago donation was part of his Internet track record.
Despite what some may guess if they search for him, he is not a Republican. In fact, he did not even vote for Bush in the 2004 election, he said.
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