Web sites help increase understanding of political process

By KELLY BURNS

With elections recently behind us, many will avoid politics until the next time around. But why is it that so many people avoid politics?  Is it truly just the negative public view of politicians or could it be a lack of knowledge that keeps people from participating in political banter?  To help the general public gain a little bit more understanding of what goes on in the political realm, I’ve included links to a few websites to hopefully expand someone’s view.

Whether you’re looking for information on a lobbying group or trying to get up to date information on the presidential election, Open Secrets.org has a lot to offer.  However, the purpose of the website is to track how money directly influences the elections. You can check for money spent, earmarks, and who contributes to each campaign and various other activities by congressional members.  The website takes it a step further by offering information on each member of Congress’s personal finances, including a list of the richest members, the stock they invest in and where their assets lie.

Another website, Votesmart.org is true to its name.  The purpose of this site is to provide users with extensive background information on political candidates. Along with biographical information and voting records of each candidate, Votesmart has a tool entitled Voteeasy. With Voteeasy you can choose the state you will be voting in, answer questions regarding certain issues and you will be matched with the candidate that best fits your point of view. There is also a tab entirely for journalists which include links to media partnerships, publications and other resources.

OpenCongress is another site that actively tries to help the user understand what’s happening in Congress and give them the ability to interact with members.  OpenCongress compiles official government data, links to the most recent news stories and blogs to provide users with up to date info. The site also uses social media to interact with the general public and provide users with a clear understanding of laws, candidate stances, and where the money is spent. One cool feature is that as you scroll over the name of a candidate, recent news articles pop out to show you when your state candidates have been mentioned in the news.

Another website I found extremely helpful FedSpending, focuses solely on where the federal government spends money.  Though broken up into three key categories: Contracts, Assistance and Recovery Spending, you can find date on a state by state basis or search for information by keyword.

Despite the negative connotations associated with the word politician it is key that every American stays informed on the happenings of the government.  While it’s not everyone’s passion, we should have no excuse to making an informed decision at the next election based on the tools that have been created for us.

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