January 20, 2008 |
MapLight aims the search light of the internet on the hidden special interests of politicians. MapLight has been in existence since 2006, however; it has really started to come into its own and show its worth in this, a Presidential election year. Currently focusing on the California legislature and US Congress, MapLight gives you a way to find out what your representatives are really doing without all the legwork it usually takes.
What is the point of transparent money trails in politics? To keep an eye out for unfair advantages given to a politicians donors. Even though it is technically legal to pay back donors with beneficial laws and other political favors, it certainly isn't ethical.
MapLight states in its FAQ that it combines several data sets to gather its information on the money trail and voting trail: bill text(s), voting records, lists of supporting and opposing interests for each bill, and campaign contribution data. Their sources for contribution data are the Center for Responsive Politics and the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
MapQuest has a clear and simple plan for future expansion, a refreshing rarity in the online world. From their mission statement:
What are your future plans?
In the immediate future we will be introducing several new tools to provide easier analysis and more powerful access to our data. Over the next several years we will continue to publish U.S. Congress data and also expand the site to cover the ten most populous states in the country, with New York State next.
The approach taken by MapLight is unique, applying Web 2.0 widgets and a slick interface to a complex issue. This makes it much easier for the average person to find out what they want to know about their representatives. They even offer fun widgets you can include on your own blog or web site for free to display the information they track for you, like this one about the current crop of presidential candidates:
By making politics and political funding accessible, if not exactly "entertaining", and providing a way for users to play with the information on their own sites, MapLight may have found one of the keys to getting the average person involved in the way politics can affect them. Or maybe not. Either way, the site is simple to use, pleasant to look at and offers a clear path to the information you seek. All of this coupled with a clear plan for the future and a solid funding source may give MapLight staying power other non-profit Web 2.0 start ups lack.
Where does MapLight get its funding? The disclosure on their site states the following:
Core funding for our U.S. Congress site is provided by the Sunlight Foundation. Other project and organizational funding comes from the Wallace Alexander Gerbode Foundation, the Arkay Foundation, and individual donors.
MapLight also freely discloses its widget source code on its site. It isn't a true open source site, as it only discloses a portion of its code, but it adds a nice open source element to it that other similar sites lack. MapLight also gives you access to its APIs and advice on using them so that you can take full advantage of what MapLight has to offer.