26th July 2016
Contributing writer for Wake Up World
“In the last 5 years, the 200 most politically active companies in the U.S. spent $5.8 billion influencing our government with lobbying and campaign contributions. Those same companies got $4.4 trillion in taxpayer support — earning a return of 750 times their investment.” ~Greenhouse
In 2010 the Supreme Court handed down a ruling that has forever changed the political landscape of the United States. The decision opened the floodgates for corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts of money on political activities. The result of the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission has been a deluge of cash lavished on super PACs, which are just one very small step away from the candidates they support. The ruling has also established legal protections for corporations, where political spending falls into the realm of “dark money” and never needs to be publicly disclosed. As discouraging as this can be for those who value truth and transparency, the entire situation is about to get a major overhaul by way of an app that exposes corrupt politicians.
Welcome to the oligarchy of the United States
When a small group of people have control over an entire country, organization or institution, we call it an oligarchy. Here in the United States, we’ve crossed the line into this territory years ago and have seemingly turned our backs on the republic that was established when the country was founded. And yet, up until 2010, this creeping movement towards oligarchy wasn’t as obvious as it is today. It’s almost as if those in power have pulled out all the stops and are unconcerned about public opinion because, after all, the momentum is so strong, who are we to stop it?
“This place is just so inundated with corruption – it’s steeped in corruption like a teabag”, said Florida Representative Alan Grayson of Washington DC. “There was a Roman emperor – Caligula – who appointed his horse to the senate. At this point, the system has gotten so bad that if the Koch brothers appointed their horse to the Senate, it wouldn’t even make a difference. That’s where we are.” [source]
The ruling behind Citizens United brought the game to a whole new level, where corporations, corruption and money go hand in hand with members of Congress. A perfect example is the recent vote by the Senate to pass the DARK Act, against strong public outcry — legislation that is in the best interest of the biotech industry, but not the people of this country.
We have to face the fact that our politicians are merely puppets, bending to the highest corporate bidder. We also have a choice, either sit back and reap the consequences of such a government or take action to reform our political contribution laws. When choosing the latter, a powerful new tool has come into play that makes it almost effortless to gather information about which industries are financially supporting a politician.
Always follow the money
With so much corporate money saturating U.S. politics, it can seem an impossible task to try and keep track of which lobbyists are funded by whom. But now, thanks to 18-year-old Nick Rubin, we can clearly see which politicians have sold out. “As you can imagine, reading about how your member of Congress voted in a recent health bill becomes all the more enlightening if you know how much money the health industry showered him in at the last election,” points out Tim Mak of Vice.
Rubin created Greenhouse, a browser plug-in that aims “to shine light on a social and industrial disease of today: the undue influence of money in our Congress.” The app runs under the motto “Some are red. Some are blue. All are Green.” He chose the name Greenhouse due to the color of money in the U.S. and because there are two houses of Congress. It also indicates transparency — a greenhouse is clear and created to help things flourish.
The free plug-in runs on Chrome, Firefox and Safari and, once installed, highlights the name of any member of Congress on any website. When you hover over those names, a small box appears which lists total contribution information and industry breakdown from the current election cycle for that particular politician. Click on the popup to get more detailed information from OpenSecrets. For Safari only, Greenhouse also installs a dollar sign button in the toolbar. Press the button to type a name or scroll down to find any member of Congress. Hovering over the name will open a popup with contribution information.
Rubin has been interested in politics since the seventh grade while learning about corporate personhood. As he got older, he recognized there was a real need to have the sources of income for members of Congress in a simple and easily accessible format. More recently, he’s been teaching himself to code and felt something like Greenhouse would be a perfect solution, essentially putting the data at peoples fingertips with minimal effort. It doesn’t get much easier.
“I just want it to educate people because that’s really the first step toward a solution. That’s exactly why I designed Greenhouse with simplicity in mind, so that everyone—even kids—are able to understand it. In terms of whether Greenhouse will solve this issue—well, education is the first step. I really do believe that increased transparency will help fix the problem. Easy access to data empowers voters to make better decisions. Once people are informed, they will reject elected officials who are motived by money instead of principles.” [source]
Once you know where your member of Congress stands on the corruption scale, you can either support him or her in the next election, or not. We also need to get money out of politics once and for all. Have a look at this article by Bill Moyers that offers a range of organizations and action points to help end the fraud.