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Web site shows neighbors who gave what to whom

http://www.jewishworldreview.com | (KRT) Want to know how much money your neighbors have given to presidential candidates? The Web site Fundrace 2004 is out to tell you in a lively, user-friendly way.

But some local donors worry it's too nosy and may even discourage people from giving.

At www.fundrace.org , you can enter a street address and ZIP code to generate a list of presidential campaign contributors who live nearby.

Or you can type in a first and last name to check on a relative, coworker or celebrity.

Some famous names that pop up on the site? Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates (he gave $2,000 to President George W. Bush) and actor Ben Affleck ($2,000 to retired Gen. Wesley Clark and $1,000 to U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio).

Some donors said they don't mind being mentioned on Fundrace, because they know federal campaign-finance law requires the disclosure of such contributions.

Yet some of them aren't thrilled at how far the site goes. It reveals full addresses of donors and includes a link to a map site.

"That, I kind of have a problem with," says Kimberlie Thomas of Dearborn Heights, a professional pet-sitter who gave $300 to Edwards.

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Otherwise, Thomas says she finds Fundrace's neighbor search intriguing.

"Sometimes I kind of feel alone in my neighborhood and want to know if any other Democrats are around," she jokes.

Roger Holtslander, a pizza delivery driver from Clinton Township who gave $100 to the campaign of former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, says the site is a good idea, but there's no need to include where donors may live or work.

"People should be able to get on there and find out who's giving money," Holtslander says. "The name and city is fine, but the street address isn't necessary."

Some people say they think Fundrace may make those in the public eye think twice before contributing to candidates.

"It would discourage people like me - high-profile people who don't want their addresses revealed - from giving," said prominent Detroit lawyer Geoffrey Fieger, who gave $2,000 to U.S. Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C.

Essentially, Fundrace is a catchy repackaging of public information that's already available online through the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

Fundrace's facts and figures are based on records filed with the FEC on contributions totaling more than $200 made by individuals to a single campaign between Jan. 1, 2003, and Feb. 29.

Federal law requires candidates to identify individuals who give them more than $200 in an election cycle. The maximum contribution for an individual is $2,000 per candidate per election.

Other Web sites offer similar ways to track political donations, but they're usually visited by serious policy wonks and journalists. Fundrace is trying to draw browsers with a fun approach. Its main page shows cartoonish images of Bush and Kerry driving race cars spewing dollar signs.

The project was started last fall by Eyebeam, a New York-based nonprofit high-tech/arts group. Mike Frumin, the 25-year-old creator of the site, describes it as an experiment in making public information easier to obtain.

In mid-March, the site launched neighborhood searches to lend a personal feeling to campaign finance, says Jonah Peretti, 30, director of research and development at Eyebeam.

"People can relate to a neighborhood," Peretti says. "They can test their own stereotypes."

Frumin says they've received some complaints about the site.

"Whether or not this information should be public, it is. At the very least, we've been able to raise people's awareness that this information isn't private."

Says Peretti, "When people complain and say they don't want to be on the list, they're saying, `I want to influence politics, but I want to do it anonymously.' "

Some on the list said they are all for shedding light on the role of money in elections.

"I think disclosure is far more important than limiting amounts," says Peter Fletcher, head of Michigan's Ypsilanti Republicans and a veteran GOP supporter, who's listed for giving $2,000 to Bush. "If you're going to be giving money to affect an election, privacy is out the window."

Dennis Archer Jr., national sales manager for Radio One and son of former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer, says he wasn't surprised his $2,000 donation to the Rev. Al Sharpton turned up on such a site.

"The way technology has evolved, you'd expect it," he says. "You can Google search anyone."

Tim Bannister, a marketing consultant who works in Southfield, Mich., says he is comfortable with his business address and $100 donation to Dean appearing on Fundrace.

"I'm probably one of five registered Democrats in Birmingham (Mich.) and I tell everybody I'm a Democrat," Bannister says. "I don't know where we got so sensitive about hiding personal information."

A site called Opensecrets.org has offered ZIP code and name searches since 1996. It's run by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Responsive Politics, whose mission is to educate the public about the role of money in politics.

Opensecrets doesn't include street addresses of donors, both for privacy reasons and to prevent other politicians or groups from using them to solicit money.

"Just because information is public doesn't necessarily mean it's appropriate for a Web site," says Robert Ellis Smith, a privacy advocate and publisher of Privacy Journal, a consumer-oriented newsletter.

Smith advises political donors to use business addresses or post office boxes, not home addresses.

Some donors are doing that already. For example, Fundrace shows a Renaissance Center address for General Motors Corp. Chief Executive Officer G. Richard Wagoner, who gave $2,000 to Bush.

"I'm still trying to figure out the social ramifications of this site, what it's good for except curiosity," Smith says. "Tracking by address and, especially, map, I don't see any social value to that."

Still, Fundrace is kind of amusing, Smith allows.

"It's great for idle browsing," he says.

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© 2004, Detroit Free Press Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services