Have you ever read a news story or watched a YouTube video and wondered exactly which industry a politician was working for and where the money for their campaigns came from? Well now there’s an app (actually a plugin) for that where you can follow the money simply by hovering over their name. No browsing, no time-consuming research, just point at the name and “Greenhouse” will tell you, simple as that.
No, this wasn’t designed by some political action committee or grassroots transparency campaign, Greenhouse was created by a 16-year-old programmer named Nicholas Rubin from Seattle, WA. This tool will make it a lot easier for people to know who is pulling the strings of which politician, and while it is unlikely that we will be able to get money out of politics any time soon, the Greenhouse plugin puts transparency right at your fingertips.
So why did he design this really handy program? In his statement “Why Greenhouse?”, Nicholas explains:
Exactly one hundred years ago, in Harper’s Weekly, Louis Brandeis made the frequently quoted statement that “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” Brandeis’s preceding sentence in the article may be less well known, but it is equally important: “Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases.” I created Greenhouse to shine light on a social and industrial disease of today: the undue influence of money in our Congress. This influence is everywhere, even if it is hidden. I aim to expose and publicize that disease through technology that puts important data where it is most useful, on websites where people read about the actions, or inaction, of members of Congress every day.
It is my hope that providing increased transparency around the amount and source of funding of our elected representatives may play a small role in educating citizens and promoting change. If you use the extension when reading about a Congressional vote on energy policy, for example, maybe you’ll discover that a sponsor of a bill has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the oil and gas industry. Or maybe you’ll learn that the top donors to a member of Congress who opposes tort reform are lawyers and law firms. I use data from the last full election cycle (generally 2011-12 for Representatives and 2007-12 for Senators) and plan to update it as more relevant data becomes available. Special thanks to OpenSecrets.org for providing access to that data.
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 farther and farther away from our Founders’ vision.
I plan to continue to refine this resource and expand it into other areas. If you have any feedback or ideas, please send them to me using the form below. I look forward to hearing from you. And feel free to spread the word using the Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus icons above!
Even though I am only 16 years old, not quite old enough to vote, I am old enough to know that our political system desperately needs fixing. I hope that this tool is one step in that direction.
So how does it work? You simply download the plugin, no restart required, and continue along your web browsing. Greenhouse will automatically highlight the names of politicians and all you have to do is hover over the name and Greenhose will show you where their money comes from using data from Opensecrets.org. There’s a joke that politicians should wear the names of their sponsors like race car drivers do so we can know who’s paying them off, and while this is unlikely to ever happen, Greenhouse certainly makes it a lot easier to know who owns who.
You can download Greenhouse by clicking on this link and you can follow Nicholas on Twitter at @nickrubin. Greenhouse is compatible with Safari, Chrome, and Firefox, and I highly suggest making it a part of your daily browsing tool collection. I already have.
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