State Rep. Geoffrey Smith, R-Columbus, wanted to be prepared for an upcoming speaking engagement at which he knew health care would be a prominent issue.
A new Web site allowed him to research the topic at one location -- an important factor, considering he had only one night to find out the positions of organizations such as Medical Mutual of Ohio, the Ohio State Medical Association and the Ohio Hospital Association.
"I looked up each one of their stances on the different bills, such as patient access and prompt pay issues," Smith says of his visit to Capitolgate.com. "I didn't have much time, so I couldn't get them on the phone. But I had a prepared statement right in front of me, so if something were to come up, I was prepared."
Capitolgate.com was launched in April as a one-stop resource for legislators and their staff, says founder Dan McCarthy, who also serves as president of The Success Group Inc., a government affairs firm based in Columbus.
"What this means for businesses is that for the first time, there's an opportunity to deliver and provide information directly to policymakers electronically," McCarthy says. "Really it's for anybody who has an interest in being known to state policy makers."
But only if those businesses are willing to pay for that privilege.
Although McCarthy declined to give exact costs for businesses or associations to post information on Capitolgate.com, he says the pricing structure is not out of line with what clients would pay for newspaper and magazine advertising.
"In some ways, that's what it is," McCarthy says, "a targeted advertising for clients."
Todd Baker, Capitolgate's CEO, says businesses and business associations can use the site by:
* Taking a position and advocating for their point of view on a particular subject, and explaining how it will affect their business or industry.
* Becoming a resource for legislators on those issues by providing background information.
* Sharing, in general terms, information about what's going on in their industry at any given time.
Ameritech, for example, uses the site to provide general information about the company and post its stance on issues including telecommunications competition.
Legislators and their staff can view the site for free, as can anyone.
While Capitolgate.com does not track individual users of the site, its hits indicate activity from statehouse offices was about 35 percent of the total traffic -- 24,578 pages viewed -- during its first month.
Rep. Larry Wolpert, R-Hilliard, has not used the site to do research for legislation but visits it every day to read about Statehouse news and see profiles of legislators, staff members and representatives of advocacy groups.
"It's a very complex business we're in, and it's nice to have one single source of information that's very concise and very knowledgeable," Wolpert says.
About a month after the site's launch, Carol Caruso, executive director for government relations for the Greater Cleveland Growth Association, and Chris Hess, the association's manager of political education and development, said they had already heard from members of the General Assembly who had accessed the site.
"Even though we have a representative in Columbus, and Chris and I try to get down there when we can, this is daily," Caruso says.
Her association is one of the site's founding partners.
Other Capitolgate.com participants -- there were about a dozen two months after the site launched -- include Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio Inc., FirstEnergy Corp. and Children's Defense Fund - Ohio.
"We're hoping that, as we get our information on the site, we become experts (and) legislators will want to come to us for information on how small business owners will be affected," Hess says. How to reach: Capitolgate.com: Todd Baker, (614) 222-2573 or firstname.lastname@example.org, and Dan McCarthy, 232-8304; Carol Caruso and Chris Hess, Greater Cleveland Growth Association, (888) 304-4769, ext. 2347; Rep. Geoffrey Smith, (614)644-6005; Rep. Larry Wolpert, (614) 466-9690
Joan Slattery Wall (email@example.com) is an associate editor and statehouse correspondent for SBN Magazine.