Net Election

The Lazy Man’s Guide to Political Obsession

As recently as 1996, being a political obsessive was hard work: all those out-of-town newspapers and pricey newsletters to read, the gossipy long-distance phone calls to other obsessives, the endless hours spent combing campaign finance filings at the Federal Election Commission in Washington, D.C.

But thanks to the Web, today’s political obsessive can gather more insider poop in a half-hour than his predecessor could in a week. Newspapers not only give their best stuff away, they collate their campaign archives for readers’ convenience. Meanwhile, good-government liberals feed FEC data into Web-friendly databases, making it a snap to track contributions. And political entrepreneurs continue to fill the void with links to the sort of high-quality information that was beyond the reach of even Nexis jockeys four years ago.

Because political information goes stale faster than bread, the first destination for obsessives should be a news site. I prefer the Washington Post’s ” Campaigns” portal page for its timeliness and simplicity. The day’s top stories are front and center, as they should be, and logical links carry you to the ” White House 2000: Key Stories” archive. From here you can connect to smartly done backgrounders on the candidates and pieces on the campaign’s key races.

Finishing second and third in the political news Web-stakes are the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times. The Los Angeles Times’ ” Campaign 2000” portal page lets you submit quickie searches of the candidates by clicking their names. The site offers a helpful link to the primary schedule, and multimedia enthusiasts will enjoy the audio analysis by the paper’s ace political obsessive, Ronald Brownstein.

The New York Times’ ” Campaign” portal links to overviews of the state races from a map of the United States. It also hosts the ” Political Points” page, with more than 100 links to the Web sites of various government branches, think tanks, political parties, candidates, pollsters, and publications. A most valuable page!

See Yahoo!’s ” Presidential Election 2000” page for another superb round-up of campaign news. Keeping with its strategy of being the Web’s great aggregator, Yahoo! gathers breaking political news stories from a variety of mainstream print sources as well as streaming audio/video from NPR, the BBC, and other outlets. All self-promotion aside, don’t miss Slate’s ” Pundit Central,” which watches television’s weekend political talk shows so you don’t have to.

Perhaps more useful for their sociological content than their utility are the candidates’ official Web sites, which Slate (as well as other sites) has collected and evaluated here. The most annoying thing about the official sites is they tell you only what the candidates want you to know. Skeleton Closet–“All the Dirt About All the Candidates”–shatters this reality distortion field. As wicked as any opposition research home page, this site collects the unsavory and annotates it with links to relevant stories in Newsweek, The Nation, the American Prospect, and other reliable publications. (Conducting a similar civics lesson on George W. Bush is

If being there live is your idea of political obsession, visit C-SPAN’s campaign portal. If being there on tape will do, see the C-SPAN video archives of candidate appearances, which can be searched by keyword here and summoned to the screen. Still under construction is C-SPAN’s searchable calendar of campaign events.

The biggest meta-issue of the campaign–money–receives ample attention on the Web. The gargantuan databases at the Federal Election Commission, the Center for Responsive Politics, and FECInfo await your query about who gave what to which candidate. Contributors to the Clinton defense fund are also searchable.

If you want to put your money where your political mouth is, open an account at the Iowa Electronic Markets with real cash. (This primer explains how the market works.)

No political obsessive’s day is complete without a visit to the man at Political Junkie, the premier roundup of politics, government, and political journalism links. Want to register to vote? Looking for census/polling data? Need the URL for Joe Conason’s columns? The addresses of members of Congress? Curious about PACs or state governments or the courts? The state parties? Then roll up your sleeve, tie your arm off with a mouse cord, slap your vein into view, and shoot this site up. You’re sure to overdose, but that’s the obsessive/compulsive thrill you’re looking for, right?