Profile: Politicalbase.com

A Site Follows the Money So Users Can Slice and Dice


By LAURIE J. FLYNN

Published: January 21, 2008

The more people Shelby W. Bonnie can get arguing over politics, the better.

Maps on Politicalbase.com showing campaign contributions.

More than a year after leaving CNet Networks, the online media company he ran for six years, Mr. Bonnie is into his next project, Politicalbase.com, which is as much an online political forum as a stockpile of election data.

One
of a growing number of Web 2.0 companies — a category of Web sites that
let visitors modify content and contribute material — Political Base
has features ranging from serious blogs and a variety of YouTube videos
to campaign finance data displayed on a Google map.

“I
think of it like a big political coffee shop,” said Mark Nickolas, an
outspoken blogger on Kentucky politics and a former campaign manager
for Democratic candidates in that state. (Mr. Nickolas’s blog, bluegrassreport.org, was blocked two years ago to state employees by Ernie Fletcher, then the governor.)

Mr. Bonnie recently named Mr. Nickolas as Political Base’s lead editor and content manager.

The
idea for Political Base, which is based in Sausalito, Calif., came from
Mr. Bonnie’s own longtime appreciation of politics and his fascination
with election seasons as “great sport.” Mr. Bonnie started the site
last fall with the help of four former CNet employees, Mike Tatum,
Ethan Lance, Dave Snider and Andy McCurdy, who financed the company
themselves.

Mr. Bonnie, a Democrat, sees the site as a place
for people of all political stripes to educate themselves on the issues
and candidates while they participate in blogs and create new ways of
looking at election data.

Political Base is a “structured
wiki,” meaning users can edit most of the text but cannot change the
underlying database. The site uses the same publicly available Federal Election Commission
data used by dozens of other sites. The site lets users correlate data,
creating comparison charts and maps showing candidate strongholds.

One
of the more useful features, the 2008 Primaries Quiz, will match you
with candidates given your position on several dozen issues ranging
from the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq and illegal immigration to school vouchers.

Mr.
Bonnie says the first challenge is to build a solid audience. His goal
is to start running advertising — from campaigns as well as consumer
products companies — as early as this spring.

But won’t
whatever audience he can attract disappear after the first Tuesday in
November? Political Base insiders insist the business model will
sustain itself far past the ballot counting because voters will turn to
other elections and other political causes.

“This is a long-term project,” Mr. Nickolas said. “It’s not just about the presidential race, but about the system.”


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