It’s a plugin available for Safari, Chrome, and Firefox that looks to promote campaign finance transparency in an interesting new way.
With Greenhouse, if you’re on a website with the name of a member of Congress anywhere on it, the plugin will highlight the name and, if you hover your mouse over it, pop up a small info-box showing the elected official, their political affiliation and state, and a full list of their biggest contributors with dollar amounts (using data from OpenSecrets.org). It also shows what percentage of the official’s donations were $200 or less, and which campaign finance measures they supported.
And it works.
I had a ton of fun Googling congressman’s names then seeing just how debilitatingly insignificant my sporadic $25 donations are. For example, here’s Mitch McConnell’s info box:
But after a little while, it all got way too real. And then my head and my heart started to hurt at the same time…
We say we want all this transparency so that real change will come, but so far, at this point in our societal evolution, we’re at that disheartening stage where more transparency is just showing us exactly how screwed the system really is and it’s messing a lot of people up; I’m an optimist who believes that deep down most libertarians are just progressives who gave up pushing for the government to get out their bedroom/marijuana tins and said screw it let’s just politically Ra’s Al Ghul the place to the ground.
And it shouldn’t be surprising to find out that this technology was developed by a 16-year old kid.
First off, teenagers are going to be the ones to save us with the next Amazon/eBay/Facebook, but more importantly, Nicholas Rubin, the 16-year old of note, is chock full of hope; that’s why he developed this app. He believes that information has power that can bring about change. This, of course, should be lauded (and it’s kind of the same thought process that any good journalist has to subscribe to), but we’ve had access to the internet, aka this information (/all the information in the world), for years now. In fact, we’re overloaded with information (and even that information can’t be trusted because there’s really a whole other hidden story behind it, right?).
Right now, in 2014, information is terrifying. Especially so if it validates our preconceived nihilistic assumptions.
Somehow, with every new scandal and with every new pulling back of a curtain, the rallying cry isn’t “We’re not gonna take it!“, it’s “We’re forced to take this now?“
We all know something has to give, us or them (whoever “they” really are), but somehow it seems like the numbers and the facts don’t matter to us anymore. It’s all spin and confusion and apathy.
On the Greenhouse website, Nicholas Rubin has written what we all think but never do anything about:
“…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.”
But how do you even know what direction to start swimming when you’ve drifted so far that you can’t see the shore anymore?
Actually, there’s probably an app for that.