There's a school of thought in political science arguing that values don't have much to do with a politician's platform. The only reason politicians do anything: To get re-elected.
A more central, and less transparent gear in the American political machine, then, is who pays for those election campaigns. Wouldn't it be simpler if we knew? A new browser extension from 16-year-old coder Nick Rubin tells us.
Using industry data from Opensecrets.org, a project of the Center for Responsive Politics, Rubin built Greenhouse, a tool that highlights a politician's funding portfolios when you hover over their names. Want to know why a certain congressman still attempts to throw shade on climate science? A flick of the mouse might reveal a career backed by coal. But views influenced by certain industries aren't just limited to one party. Hence the Greenhouse tagline: "Some are red. Some are blue. All are green."
"I had a Tea Party website write an article about Greenhouse. And today another article was written on a site called Americans Against the Tea Party," Rubin says when I ask him about the kind of response he's been getting. "Liberal sites, conservative sites, libertarian sites have covered it. It really shows that everyone can enjoy it."
Rubin says he was in seventh grade when he first started developing a conscience about money in politics. A project on corporate personhood triggered his interest, and later attending a presentation from Harvard professor and campaign finance activist Lawrence Lessig kept it up. Rubin was later introduced to Lessig, who helped consult him on the beta version, and was the first to promote the app on his blog.
"It made me really angry, knowing that [corporate personhood] stuff was legal," Rubin says. "And I thought there was something I had to do about it."
Other people appear to be angry, too—or at least curious about who or what is funding their local representatives. When I interviewed Rubin earlier this week, Greenhouse had 30,000 downloads.
Greenhouse might even bust out of the United States. Inquiries from Brazil, Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Australia, and the U.K. have all landed in the Greenhouse inbox, asking Rubin to roll out more country-specific editions. "As long as I can find reliable data sources, that’s definitely something I’d like to do," he says.