It’s MapLight’s Seventh Anniversary! Thank you!

February 29, 2012

It's Our Seventh Anniversary!

We invite you to indulge us as we press the rewind button and travel back seven years to the founding of our organization. There we see a younger, less gray, political activist, MapLight co-founder, Daniel Newman, setting up shop in a rented spare bedroom to build a giant database (a.k.a. data mashup) that would reveal the influence of money behind a wide range of issues affecting the lives of ordinary people. Little did he know then that he would be named a Gov 2.0 Hero and one of Fast Company's 100 Most Creative People in Business, and that the result of his vision, Web Mashup Turns Citizens Into Washington's Newest Watchdogs, would be used by journalists to reach over 90 million people worldwide--amplifying the message that money's role in politics corrupts the legislative process. Here are a few highlights from the past seven years, told through media headlines we received.

MapLight's free public database and its transparency tools prompted the organizers of the Knight-Batten Awards for Innovations in Journalism to write "Every taxpayer should take a hard look at this site. Never before have citizens been able to so easily track the influences on their elected officials.” MapLight also won a James Madison Freedom of Information Award, a Webby Award Nomination for Best Politics Website, a World Summit Award (for international public-benefit technology projects), the Library Journal's Best Reference Award, and the website was coined "A Light in the Dark" by MSNBC's Dylan Ratigan who said, “This is the most extraordinary use of technology that I believe I have seen when it comes to politics."

On behalf of our small but impactful team we would like to sincerely thank our co-founders Jaleh Bisharat, Thomas Layton, and early MapLight champion, Greg Gretsch, for their commitment and dedication to our work. Also, without the support of our foundations and individual donors, and the advice and counsel of our board of directors, advisory board, and you, our loyal followers, the work we do would not be possible. Thank you.

A big shout-out goes to the organizations who have partnered with us on projects that have made our seemingly abstract data sing, like the Wired Influence Tracker Widget, co-created with the folks at Wired and their ever-brilliant editor-in-chief, Evan Hansen, who wrote, "Once you’ve experienced this, it’s hard to be satisfied with the old, disconnected data. It’s like getting a first taste of salt." The super talented analysts at Tableau have effortlessly envisioned interactive graphics from a multitude of spreadsheets – for example, our Who Own's Your State's Member of Congress 'Viz,' – MapLight's first viral piece – and a new project, The State of Influence: The Origins of Super PAC Money. Azavea worked with us to create maps for our U.S. House and California Assembly and Senate "Remote Control" Reports, which resulted in scores of news reports including this on American Public Media's Marketplace, Outsiders pay most to House campaigns, and this in the San Francisco Chronicle, [CA] Politicians raise money outside their districts.

Being the new research organization on the block in 2005, we benefited greatly from our data partners, the Center for Responsive Politics, the National Institute of Money in State Politics, and GovTrack, who had already established credible relationships with many media outlets. However, the word data mashup (a tech word that means, simply, a combination of databases) was used early on to describe MapLight and raised several journalist's eyebrows, prompting them to ask us to carefully sift through spreadsheet after spreadsheet of campaign finance and legislative data, and deliver document after document of evidence of a company or organization's public support of or opposition to bills. Once we earned the trust of reporters, (for example, as David Pogue of the New York Times put it: "Nobody has ever revealed the relationship between money given and votes cast to quite such a startling effect,") they began Following the Money Trail Online and showed the intersection between money and politics and how compaign contributions can influence legislator votes.

We are thankful to the many journalists who have cited us and asked us to dig deeper into the data and combine our various databases in ways we never could have imagined, as in this report, Auto bailout: North vs. South- CNN's David Mattingly discusses why some Southern senators voted against the auto bailout. We are also appreciative of those reporters, students, activists, and citizens who have mined our public database for information to build their own stories: Drug Bust: Big Pharma Kills the Competitive Drug Provision from Healthcare Reform; Occupy Wall Street Descends on Congress, Says: Money Out of Politics!; and Why We're [Tea Party] Winning the Grassroots Battle. For more stories see In the News.

In 2009 we successfully settled our Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the state of California, winning public access to the state’s database of legislative votes and as John Diaz eloquently points out in Opening the Windows to the State Capitol, "It should not take a lawsuit to open the windows into the legislative activity within the state Capitol. These are the people we elect, operating with the money we provide them, to perform the people's business."

In the primary elections in 2010 MapLight began exposing the money behind CA's ballot propositions, revealing that Out-of-state money flooded into California over greenhouse gas law exposing big oil's play to overturn California's climate law AB 32 with Proposition 23.

Our report on the industry money behind a bill to expand payday lending practices in California generated 40 articles and editorials calling for the legislation to be voted down including Consumed by payday loans: State legislators offer haven for lenders deemed 'predatory.'

We issued early reports showing the money behind the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, resulting in articles such as Citigroup, Goldman Big 'Super Committee' Donors, and the Stop Online Piracy Act, SOPA supporters are cashing the media's checks, resulting in the INFLUENCE GAME: Online companies win piracy fight. We exposed that the Private Equity Industry Has Given $17M to Lawmakers Since '07 and kept a watchful eye on The Money Behind the Bailout Vote in 2008 when Money and Politics Met on Bailout: 'Yes' Votes Came from Reps who Took More from Wall St.

Last year we launched our Wisconsin website, giving citizens a front row seat to the Wisconsin State Legislature. Just recently we launched our Company Pages, Shining a MapLight on Corporate Political Influence, prompting Susan Reisinger to write "The non-partisan research group MapLight launched an online project that is sure to catch the eye of many a general counsel." Our Topics pages are set for a public launch next week.

We are encouraged daily as we gain momentum. Our data was cited in 1,500 money in politics news stories last year reaching over 55 million readers and viewers. However, the fight continues and since Money Buys Access In Government, MapLight will be there, continuing to expose The myths and realities of corruption and keeping a watchful eye on the shadowy world of Super PACs and the Flood of Money in U.S. Politics. With money flooding our politics, MapLight's work is more critical and central than ever.

"We have a corrupt system where government is responsive to the donors and not to the citizens.... companies and rich individuals can buy the politicians they want into office." Daniel Newman on Al Jazeera

We need your help, now more than ever to Change the World With a Click of the Mouse by continuing to use MapLight's database to expose the economy of influence in DC, California and Wisconsin, and to hold legislators accountable at every turn when big moneyed interests attempt to Buy Votes and access to our government. It will take all of us, the left, right, and center, to fix our money-dominated system and make our democracy work. We invite you to join us in our fight to put our Representative Government back into the hands of its rightful owners: you, your children, and all the people that make up this great country. 

Thank you for everything you've done to help shine a light on money and politics over the last seven years. We know that working together with you, the best is yet to come.


The staff at MapLight, a political money tracker