by Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 3, 2009 8:58 AM
A liberal advocacy group is launching a new Web site Tuesday that aims to document the financial and political ties of conservative groups, many of which have emerged as major political forces this year in fomenting opposition to President Obama's policies.
The Conservative Transparency Web site (http://www.conservativetransparency.org), which will be run by the Media Matters Action Network, uses Internal Revenue Service filings to track the major financial backers and beneficiaries of conservative activist groups.
"Conservative Transparency allows users to track the money flowing into the coffers of conservative groups from the nation's largest corporations and ideologically extreme organizations," said Chris Harris, the group's communications director. "Knowing the source of conservative funding will assist the entire progressive movement in responding to attacks from 'astroturf' organizations."
The effort illustrates the growing importance of rapid media response in the age of the Internet and Twitter, as liberals and conservatives alike battle to gain the upper hand in driving news coverage and influencing the direction of political debates in Washington. It also shows how advocacy groups are increasingly supplanting nonpartisan organizations in the race to compile and distribute information.
The Web site pulls together data from nonprofit tax disclosure forms into one searchable database, allowing users to quickly access information about how various conservative groups raise and disburse money. Harris notes that most watchdog sites focus on campaign finance or lobbying data compiled by the Federal Elections Commission and Congress, rather than information about outside groups.
For example, the Web site's listing for FreedomWorks Inc., which has helped organize anti-tax and anti-health reform protests, shows the group brought in more than $4 million in 2007, much of it from wealthy conservative donors such as the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation.
The Web site is unequivocally liberal, taking aim only at conservative organizations. Among the groups not included on the site, for example, is the Media Matters Action Network and an affiliated organization, Media Matters for America.
"Media Matters is supported by a myriad of progressive and grass roots donors," Harris said when asked about the absence. "Information can be found on our publicly available" Form 990 returns to the Internal Revenue Service.