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Spin meets its match

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By Carol A. Clark

 

The political rhetoric spun by politicians, depending on who they’re talking to, is increasingly more difficult for them to do – thanks to thousands of Americans fighting for  truth. This project is a historic undertaking in which citizens have come together to defend democracy and defend what many consider its most essential component: access to information.Through the joint efforts of more than 100,000 Democrats and Republicans during the last 16 years, Project Vote Smart has completed the nation’s Voter’s Self-Defense System. Conservatives and liberals alike worked together spending endless hours researching the backgrounds and records of thousands of political candidates and elected officials to discover their voting records, campaign contributions, public statements, biographical data, including their work history and evaluations of them generated by more than  100 competing special interest groups. Every election, these volunteers test candidates’ willingness to provide citizens with their positions on the issues they will most likely face if elected through the Political Courage Test.The test is a key component of Project Vote Smart’s Voter Self-Defense System. Major leaders of the media, major parties and Project Vote Smart repetitiously ask candidates one central question: “Are you willing to tell citizens your positions on the issues you will most likely face on their behalf?”The Political Courage Test is administered to all candidates for presidential, congressional, gubernatorial and state legislative offices. The test asks candidates which items they will support if elected.“We want to know if they have the courage to go on the record with their answers,” said National Bus Tour Coordinator Jon Arnold. “We also find out all their information through their speeches, public statements and other sources.”The organization partners with entities such as Follow the Money and the Institute on State Finance, Arnold said.Thanks to the efforts of White Rock residents Joe and Lois Thompson, the enormous mobile training center from Project Vote Smart arrived in Los Alamos Friday to inform people the voter education project. “We heard about this organization about four or five years ago,” Joe said. “We helped coordinate their coming here to let people know about this important service.”The mobile training center, parked off Central Avenue near 15th Street, is equipped with a movie theater and wi-fi computer terminals to train voters how to defend themselves from political spin.The Thompsons have a 2006 edition of “The Voter’s Self-Defense Manual” and said the 2008 edition is coming out in April.“This is a very important organization,” Lois said of Project Vote Smart. “They have eight or 10 advocacy groups that share their rankings of each person,” Joe said. “They also disclose who’s supporting who and for how much. Because so many people are trying to replace Pete (Sen. Pete Domenici), I think for both the national elections and particularly for New Mexico’s (U.S.) Senate and House races, this is a wonderful chance to find out what these candidates have done and decide what we think they will do if elected.”Arnold showed a video in the mobile training center Friday and said, “We are a nonprofit, political research organization. We collect information on over 40,000 office holders and candidates.”The organization, made up largely of volunteers, states that at a time when Americans are increasingly frustrated with the attack advertising and empty rhetoric of many campaigns, the need for this relevant information has never been greater. The public integrity of candidates and the quality of their campaigns can be viewed, in part, as a measurement of their willingness to provide their prospective employers – the voters – with this information during a campaign, the point when voters need the most help and when the candidates are asking for their vote.The mobile training center hit the road Oct. 2 and has been arriving a week or two ahead of most primaries and caucuses to give voters a chance to find out the truth about candidates for themselves, Arnold said.Ahead of future stops, Arnold explained that he contacts Project Vote Smart members, such as the Thompsons, and asks their help in finding a location to park the mobile training center and other logistics.Friday was one of only two stops the coach will make in New Mexico, the other being Albuquerque. The mobile training center is now on its way to visit more than 100 communities across the country to spread the news that there is a way to find out the truth about candidates and office holders.For fun, the organization said it is rolling a nine-foot American flag ball coast-to-coast, collecting messages from outraged voters about the “abusive behavior” of the candidates, and will deliver it to Washington, D.C., just before the election in November.Project Vote Smart is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization funded exclusively through contributions from private citizens and philanthropic foundations. All contributions are 100-percent tax-deductible.Headquartered outside of Philipsburg, MT, Project Vote Smart has many volunteer opportunities. For more information, access www.vote-smart.org or call 406-859-8683.