It Was A Perfect World
I was eleven when I got two pet Guinea pigs. I named one Senator and the other Governor (I was taken by politics at an early age).
I just hated that I only had a cage to lock them up in, so I built, what was for them, at least in my child’s mind, a paradise.
I spent the day digging in the dirt in our back yard. I had become so filthy when I was done that my mother made me take off all my clothes at the back door, but I had built Guinea Pig Heaven: a monstrous hole, seven feet wide and almost two feet deep, complete with caves, little tunnels and old wooden shingle bridges.
I watched them for hours before going to bed, as they explored every passageway and ramp to make sure they could not escape, and they couldn’t. They couldn’t escape even in the middle of that night, when the neighbor’s cat arrived.
Unintended consequences can be horrific.
I do not imagine that there were many votes in the last election that were not well intentioned and hopeful that their results would make our world, if not paradise, at least better. But almost to a person, everyone I know, everyone I meet and talk to during my travels is upset.
It does not matter whether they be conservative or liberal: They all seem, “Mad as Hell and aren’t going to take it anymore.”
Americans have always had differences of opinion about health care, a balanced budget, the environment, guns, abortion, education, etc., but we have rarely been so angrily ripped apart.
What has changed us so? Some point at the President, some the Congress, and some the media. From where I stand the answer seems simple: It is the facts, or rather the lack of them, the lack of a resource to which a conservative or liberal can turn to, in confidence, for truth.
It is that which keeps me, and all of us at VoteSmart.org so committed to our goal of collecting the facts that reality is so dependent upon.
A free people that finds lies acceptable, will not remain free for long.
On behalf of myself, your staff, your interns and volunteers and the almost 10,000 of them that have given of their time over so many years to sustain that reality, thank you, a thousand times thank you for having our backs.
The millions who do not yet know what you have been building at Vote Smart owe you a great debt.
My very best wishes to us all in this coming election.
Vote Smart President
Two dilemmas: For 25 years Vote Smart attracted supporters two ways: through media coverage or mass mailings. Traditional media coverage has now been replaced by opinionated news that little values the inflexibility of facts, which is what Vote Smart provides. Mass mailings which once costs us $0.19 per letter now costs $0.59, making it unaffordable. Thus, it is difficult for us to get our message out that FACTS MATTER.
The only routes left for Vote Smart are “word of mouth” or social media. As a result, Vote Smart has contracted with Justin Kistner, a social media guru who, as you read this, is testing the videos we sent you to preview (if we have your current email address), along with other messages sent to specific types of viewers on Facebook and YouTube. Our hope is to find the specific citizen characteristics that suggest they would understand the enormous value of Vote Smart and then saturate audiences with those characteristics with our message.
A Story of Courage
It was 1990 and the discussion went something like this: Can we apply enough pressure on political candidates to get them to answer key issue questions? Can we make sure that those questions represent the issues most important to voters? How can we strip candidates of any reasonable excuse for not doing so?
Yes, we can organize the nation’s news organizations to co-sponsor the questions. Yes, we can research every poll and survey to make sure our selections represent the issues voters want answers to. Yes, we can provide the candidates up to 6 weeks to respond. We can document at least 6 efforts to compel each candidate to “act honorably by providing their answers to the nation’s citizens.” We can accept any answer to any question, even if the answer they give is not germane. Simply ask the question and report whatever their response is.
It was a Herculean effort: We organized over 200 daily newspapers, radio and television stations. Each would write letters to the candidates in their area, and editorials compelling the candidates to participate. We organized prominent members of our board, starting with Barry Goldwater and George McGovern, to write thousands of letters compelling members of their own party to “act honorably by providing answers on issues voters were concerned about.” Over the years, John McCain, Michael Dukakis, Jim Sasser, Geraldine Ferraro and other prominent members of both parties would do the same.
We started strong with the vast majority of candidates acting honorably in their efforts to help voters judge them on the issues. Then this happened. . .
"Party leadership has told us not to respond to Vote Smart's questions!"
In 2000, sponsoring news organizations and Vote Smart staff began collecting evidence that both major parties, afraid of opposition research, began instructing their candidates not to respond. It was like a wild brush fire, the word went out everywhere, in every state. “Do not cooperate with Vote Smart,” they said. In one state, members of both parties met and agreed to protect incumbency that way. In another, candidates were threatened by their state’s
party organization: “If you answer Vote Smart’s questions, we will withhold your campaign money.”
We got hundreds of warnings about what was afoot. Here are some of the more interesting ones:
President Clinton delivers four crates with thousands of pages of documents and says my answers are in here.
“The questions are on the President’s desk,” but they never come in.
— Jeb Bush, George H. Bush’s campaign manager
“The people will not use the issue information unless it comes with a free Ginzu knife.”
— Presidential advisor
“If you report that the Senator refused to provide answers, we are going to strip Vote Smart of its non-profit status.”
— U. S. Senate Leadership
“Our campaign only fills out issue questionnaires when they come with a donation.”
— Congressional Incumbent
“It is not our job to educate, it is our job to win.”
— National Party Committee
To this day Vote Smart still asks the candidates to do the right and honorable thing by providing this basic information to voters but we know that most modern-day candidates will refuse. Instead their campaign dollars rule the day, of which up to 80% is now used to trash their opponents.
Vote Smart’s response is simple: the creation of an enormous professional research team to cull through every single candidate’s public record and answer the questions on Vote Smart’s Political Courage Test on each candidate’s behalf.
Once completed the inferred answers are sent to each candidate asking them to correct any errors they may see before we provide them to the public through our VoteEasy tool. They rarely have a correction because your staff is so spot on accurate.
It is telling to note that over the years there was almost no difference between the number of Democrats or Republicans willing to provide answers.