Ever wondered how those conflicted confusions of politicos with vested interests might already be affecting our democracy? Whilst Éoin speaks of “sleeper cells” in Clinical Commissioning Groups throughout the NHS, and expresses his unhappiness with great precision, the US has had a rather longer history of such organised pork-barrel politics. Which does, in fact, give them an advantage in some matters as the Internet’s myriad of tools allows the people in some way to strike back.
I launched Sopatrack in late December, 2011. At the time, SOPA and PIPA were being rushed through Congress without public debate. There was major, one-sided funding for these issues, and it was alarming how much traction that could get.
Sopatrack had a few goals:
- Help voters find their local congresspeople on any connected device
- Allow voters to contact their members of Congress by phone or social networking site
- Show whether a congressperson supported or opposed this issue
- Show how much money the congressperson raised both for and against SOPA/PIPA
The site was immediately popular, with lots of press coverage including The Atlantic, Mashable, Lifehacker, and Hacker News. Twitter, Facebook, and Google drove the majority of the traffic, which peaked at over 40,000 unique daily visitors on key days around the issues.
The wider internet community also rose up, and Congress eventually tabled these bills. Great sites like SOPA Opera were developed, and ultimately Google, Wikipedia, and Reddit staged major actions so that their users would understand the issue. The resources of SunlightLabs, MapLight, and OpenSecrets were hugely helpful to developers and voters.
But there was still more data on other bills, and I wondered what Sopatrack would look like if automatically applied to all bills.
And so it is that we get the new Sopatrack:
How does Fundraising Impact Congress?
The new Sopatrack has the same goals as the original, except that it will work across all bills in the 112th Congress with contribution data from MapLight. Since there’s more data across more issues, the site also tracks how often a congressperson votes on the side of the greater contributions. Individual positions on pre-vote issues will not be tracked.
The votes with the money percentage is also applied to each state for all their congresspeople, and to all Congress.
A brilliant use of public data: follow the people who follow the money, analyse how this affects the way they vote – and make the information available to everyone. With such a simple and manifestly open system as this, we don’t need to ban lobbyists; we don’t need to pass legislation; we don’t need – a priori – the politicians to change anything they’re already doing right now. All we need to do is harness a kind of consumer value-for-money instinct and give the voters the data they need to decide on their lonesomes who should deserve our approval and who our disapprobation.
And if shame doesn’t change how politics is conducted, datasets such as these will surely have some sort of beneficial impact in other ways with an evermore tech-savvy public.
As I suggested recently in relation to political funding, approaches which pull together disparate but publicly available information – and then disseminate equally publicly this information about how our politicians and their supporters behave – might have more chances of changing cultures than self-administered and half-hearted patches to the weary body politic; patches which, in any case, the politicians will always find a way of working around and undermining.
If the latest memes and buzzwords in social media involve using the Twitter firehose and similar sets of information to analyse the voting public into submission, why not turn the tables on the politicians and their marketers and use the same tools to analyse the latter into acquiring good and democratic behaviours?
In the light of reports such as Éoin’s tonight, it’s high time we considered doing something similar to Sopatrack here in Britain.
Anyone up for it?
That is to say, anyone up for saving our democracy from the people who follow the money instead of our interests?