Non-profit

Vote Smart (Project Vote Smart)

Website:

votesmart.org

Tax-Exempt Status:

501(c)(3)

Former Name:

Project Vote Smart

Project of:

Center for National Independence in Politics

Formation:

1992

President:

Richard Kimball

Type:

Research and education nonprofit

Vote Smart, formerly known as Vote Smart Project, is a non-partisan research project which collects and distributes information on political candidates. It is a project (and appears to be the sole function) of the Center for National Independence in Politics. The organization was founded by former Arizona Democratic politician Richard Kimball with funding from prominent left-of-center institutional funders the Ford Foundation, Carnegie Corporation, Knight Foundation, and Revson Foundation. [1]

Vote Smart’s founding board lists numerous high-profile politicians, including former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford. [2]

Despite having received support from liberal institutional foundations, Vote Smart does not accept funding from organizations it considers to be politically motivated and uses mostly volunteer labor. [3]

Richard Kimball

Richard Kimball founded the Center for National Independence in Politics and Vote Smart Project in 1992. [4] Prior to founding the Center and Vote Smart, he was an Arizona Democratic Party politician who was elected to the Arizona State Senate for one term in 1978. In 1982, he was elected for a six-year term to the Arizona Corporation Commission, a state-backed corporation which manages Arizona’s utilities. [5]

In 1985, Kimball resigned to run for U.S. Senate against then-Representative John McCain (R-AZ). Kimball faced a hostile press which called him “hapless” and “terminally weird,” and he lost the election by more than 20 points. [6] Kimball reportedly found the campaigning process tiresome:

“The election experience left him feeling as though he’d run a bad campaign — twisting people’s arms for money, figuring out what they wanted and then giving it to them. He felt as though he’d been part of a flawed system that he believes crushes citizens’ ability to govern themselves.” [7]

Politician Information

Vote Smart compiles information about politicians and unelected officials at the federal, state, and local levels. For any given individual, the database provides a bio, voting records, ideological stances, ratings by voter watchdogs, speeches, and campaign funding sources. [8]

Vote Smart issues the “Political Courage Test,” a questionnaire which collects in-depth policy and ideological stances for the organization’s database. The test has been criticized for providing opposition research material for political opponents. As a result, fewer politicians have taken the test over time, with 72% of Congressional candidates taking the test in 1996, but 75% of incumbents ignoring it in 2006. [9]

In 2000, presidential candidate Bill Bradley (D-NJ) was removed from Vote Smart’s board of directors for refusing to take the Political Courage Test. [10]

Senator Barry Goldwater (R-AZ) was a supporter of Project Vote and sat on its board of directors until his death in 1998. Senator McCain, who defeated Kimball in the 1986 Senatorial election, took Goldwater’s place on the board. In 2008, McCain was removed from the board after refusing to take the Political Courage Test. McCain had taken the test in 2004 and encouraged other politicians to take it. He made no public justification for his refusal to take the test in 2008. [11]

Donors

Vote Smart does not accept money from for-profit corporations, unions, or any other organizations which engage in lobbying. [12]

The organization gets much of its funding from “members” who must give at least $45 per year. However, Vote Smart’s membership began steadily declining in the 2000s. [13]

In 2016, Vote Smart left its original headquarters on the Great Divide Ranch, a 150-acre ranch in Philipsburg, Montana. The move may have been motivated by financial problems,[14] though the organization claims the logistics of running the operations in such a remote location were the cause. [15]

References

  1. Nintzel, Jim. “Test Study.” Tuscon Weekly. Accessed March 21, 2020. https://www.tucsonweekly.com/tucson/test-study/Content?oid=1091043. ^
  2. “Vote Smart’s Board.” Vote Smart. Accessed March 21, 2020. https://justfacts.votesmart.org/about/board/. ^
  3. “An Extraordinary Organization Has Some Extraordinary Rules.” Vote Smart. Accessed March 21, 2020. https://justfacts.votesmart.org/about/. ^
  4. Bryan, Greg. “Candidates on losing end of elections cope differently.” Tuscon.com. Accessed March 21, 2020. https://tucson.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/elections/candidates-on-losing-end-of-election-cope-differently/article_1d29f887-3e33-5ebc-84cb-b0e865c5e2fe.html. ^
  5. “Kimball, Richard.” Our Campaigns. Accessed March 21, 2020. https://www.ourcampaigns.com/CandidateDetail.html?CandidateID=6269. ^
  6. Nowicki, Dan and Muller, Bill. “John McCain Report.” AZ Central. Accessed March 21, 2020. http://archive.azcentral.com/news/election/mccain/articles/2007/03/01/20070301mccainbio-chapter6.html. ^
  7. Bryan, Greg. “Candidates on losing end of elections cope differently.” Tuscon.com. Accessed March 21, 2020. https://tucson.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/elections/candidates-on-losing-end-of-election-cope-differently/article_1d29f887-3e33-5ebc-84cb-b0e865c5e2fe.html. ^
  8. “We Track Thousands of Politicians Each and Every Year.” Vote Smart. Accessed March 21, 2020. https://justfacts.votesmart.org/. ^
  9. Nintzel, Jim. “Test Study.” Tuscon Weekly. Accessed March 21, 2020. https://www.tucsonweekly.com/tucson/test-study/Content?oid=1091043. ^
  10. Nintzel, Jim. “Test Study.” Tuscon Weekly. Accessed March 21, 2020. https://www.tucsonweekly.com/tucson/test-study/Content?oid=1091043. ^
  11. Nintzel, Jim. “Test Study.” Tuscon Weekly. Accessed March 21, 2020. https://www.tucsonweekly.com/tucson/test-study/Content?oid=1091043. ^
  12. Stirland, Sarah Lai. “Strapped For Cash, Election Info-Providing Project Vote Smart Might Have To Sell The Ranch.” Tech President. Accessed March 21, 2020. http://techpresident.com/news/21821/project-vote-smart-might-sell-ranch. ^
  13. Stirland, Sarah Lai. “Strapped For Cash, Election Info-Providing Project Vote Smart Might Have To Sell The Ranch.” Tech President. Accessed March 21, 2020. http://techpresident.com/news/21821/project-vote-smart-might-sell-ranch. ^
  14. Stirland, Sarah Lai. “Strapped For Cash, Election Info-Providing Project Vote Smart Might Have To Sell The Ranch.” Tech President. Accessed March 21, 2020. http://techpresident.com/news/21821/project-vote-smart-might-sell-ranch. ^
  15. Pentilla, Annie. “Project Vote Smart to leave Philipsburg.” Independent Record. Accessed March 21, 2020. https://helenair.com/news/state-and-regional/project-vote-smart-to-leave-philipsburg/article_e8072365-6492-518b-aa44-c0f3f7b7c4ac.html. ^

Directors, Employees & Supporters

  1. Richard Kimball
    Founder and President
  See an error? Let us know!