Just a week before Election Day, the nation’s biggest archive of information on who’s paying the bills for the 2006 election is closed to the public. A computer glitch knocked the Center for Responsive Politics’ Open Secrets website off the air last Friday. It’s been offline ever since, and is still offline as I write this early Tuesday morning.
I’m not going to suggest that this is some election-eve conspiracy, but if it were it could hardly have come at a more critical time. This is the equivalent of Macy’s closing its doors for four days in the middle of the Christmas shopping season.
It is the ultimate disaster for an organization whose presence is almost entirely on the web. And it’s a reminder how thin a thread connects us all these days with services we’ve come to rely on as part of our environment.
Now that we’ve grown accustomed to finding the answers to virtually any question online through a few clicks of the mouse, the thought of going back to the old days seems like cruel and unusual punishment.
More to the point with Open Secrets, it’s a return to the bad old days when nobody really looked closely – or could look closely – at who’s fronting the money to run our elections.
Yes, I know the raw data is all there on the Federal Election Commission website. But using that website requires the patience of Job, the wisdom of Solomon, and enough geeky knowledge about federal election law to know what to do when you encounter a page like this one:
Unfortunately, the downing of Open Secrets has also had repercussions on other websites. Here at Sunlight we’ve had to postpone the unveiling of a new feature – Watchdogging 101 – that’s full of tutorials on how to do online research into money and influence on Capitol Hill. The problem: almost all the links go to Open Secrets.
Hopefully all this will be resolved in the next few hours and both Open Secrets and Watchdogging 101 will be up and running soon. But four days without fingertip access to CRP’s storehouse of information on money and politics is serious enough to merit comment, even if the problem is solved in the next ten minutes.
Meantime, if you absolutely must have the facts right now, you can phone CRP directly at 202-857-0044 and they’ll try to help by accessing their internal databases.