Money and its corrupting influence is at the heart of complaints about politics in the United States, and every two years many candidates promise voters that they will try to reform a system that has lost its legitimacy.
Despite the promises, this doesn’t look like happening any time soon. Thanks to a 17-year-old’s app, however, it has never been easier to find out exactly where a politician’s donations have come from – and work out how that money has influenced them, and what they are likely to stand up for in the future.
A wise person once said, “if we know who buys our NASCAR drivers, shouldn’t we know who buys our politicians?”
Helping to fill that void is 17-year-old Nick Rubin, who created a browser plugin (aka a web-based app) last year to help citizens find out exactly who’s funding our members of Congress, how much they made, and how that money influences the elections among other details.
From lobbyists to big corporations, politicians receive money from several different and often surprising sources, which in the end determines which issues they focus on, and which stances they end up taking. Healthcare, energy sources, funding for school and transportation, and tax laws are all in the hands of those who have the most money; the question is – who.
The plugin called Greenhouse works with Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers, and it can be downloaded at www.allaregreen.us.
After installation, when a politician’s name comes up in article text, the app will break down their top ten monetary influences. The plugin is free and simple to use, as noted in this article by Vice.com.
“Greenhouse allows people to see the money story behind the news story,” said Rubin to Vice.
The name Greenhouse was created by combining three symbolic ideas: the color of money, the two houses of Congress, and the transparency of a greenhouse.
In an interview with Vice, Rubin said he wanted to “put the data at people’s fingertips” for people to be able to make the most informed decision when it comes to politics.
Originally Rubin used all data from the 2012 election, which was the most complete at that time. Later it was updated with the most current information; one of the sources of data is OpenSecrets.org.
OpenSecrets is the official website for The Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan and nonprofit research group in Washington, D.C. who tracks where money used in politics is coming from.
The Center for Responsive Politics received the Society of Professional Journalists’ 2013 award for their investigative work.
“What concerns me is the sheer amount of money being pumped into the system…During the development of Greenhouse and looking over these numbers and seeing how much is being donated—it’s really scary,” said Rubin to Vice.
At the time this article was written, the biggest news story on CNN.com is U.S.-Iran nuclear deal. If you have the Greenhouse plugin installed, the extension will highlight two names in the article: “Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, a key Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee” and “Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate.”
When hovering over each name, a little window pops up that shows that both senators have received significantly more money from lawyers and law firms than other industries. The two other biggest funders for Sen. Coons are leadership PACs and securities & investment, with health professionals coming last.
And for Sen. Durbin it is securities & investment industry and those who have retired on the top of the list; with defense aerospace further down the list.
“The motto of Greenhouse is: ‘Some are red. Some are blue. All are green.’” What it signifies is “that the influence of money on our government isn’t a partisan issue. Whether Democrat or Republican, we should all want a political system that is independent of the influence of big money and not dependent on endless cycles of fundraising from special interests…
“The United States of America was founded to serve individuals, not big interests or big industries. Yet every year we seem to move further and further away from our Founders’ vision,” as Rubin wrote on the plugin’s website.
Greenhouse’s official Twitter page can also be useful to follow for little bits of information about money in politics. The account often re-tweets OpenSecrets.org and other organizations fighting against corruption and for transparent government.
As an example, on tax day, Greenhouse tweeted the following image:
The plugin has received positive reviews so far. Victoria Young from Los Angeles, looked up who funds Bernie Sanders, and tweeted “Love using @allaregreen as a way to understand context around politicians within a story. Context is the future.”
What do you think? Are you going to install the plugin and use it when you’re reading the news?