Publication / DecodeDC/ Scripps
July 11, 2014
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Teenager creates web tool to highlight campaign contributions

New web tool exposes money behind politicians

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Ever wondered what or who is behind a politician’s well-crafted veneer? A new web browser tool can point that out for you.

Greenhouse is a plug-in that works with most browsers and “exposes the role money plays in Congress.”

Self-taught coder Nick Rubin, a 16-year-old from Seattle, built the free browser extension in his spare time because of a mix of frustration with the current political system. The teen felt the public needed an easier way to look-up where politicians are getting their money, he says on his site, where you can download Greenhouse.

The browser tool functions much like a secret decoder. A reader doesn’t have to do anything but casually browse through webpages and articles online. When the name of a member of Congress comes up in the text, the plug-in automatically highlights the name and displays a window with all of that member’s most recent campaign contributions from highest to lowest. The plugin also describes which industries—such as health professionals and oil—gave a contribution.

“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,” Rubin wrote on his site. “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.”

So if you were to read an article about Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho who, thanks to the Center for Public Integrity, the public now knows is a big supporter of arsenic in drinking water—you’d get a pop-up that looks just like this.

It shows that “lobbyists” are Thompson’s biggest backers with more than $75,000 in contributions.

The name for the app, Greenhouse, comes from a mix of the color of money, the two houses in Congress, and the relative transparency you commonly see in a garden greenhouse, Rubin told Vice.

Rubin gets the majority of the contribution numbers from Greenhouse currently only uses information from the 2012 election cycle, since it is the most complete set of data available.

For now Rubin is focusing his efforts on growing the app and introducing web users to it. He’s considering doing a “Story of the Day” where he points out big money pieces in the news that highlight the link between a politician’s actions and his donors.

So the next time you read a story about the carbon tax or gun control, it may be worthwhile to try the plug-in and see what corporation’s interest each politician really has in mind.