Making Government Work

The Easy Way to Find Out If Your Elected Officials’ Votes Are Biased

September 9, 2014
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The Easy Way to Find Out If Your Elected Officials’ Votes Are Biased
16 year old Nick Rubin, creator of Greenhouse, is a Seattle born web developer. Nick Rubin/Twitter
Greenhouse, the invention of a 16-year-old, exposes where politicians get their campaign contributions from.

Making the decisions about the welfare our country are 435 representatives and 100 senators in Washington, D.C. Their responsibility is a hefty one, but so is ours when choosing the best one while voting.

At times, however, it seems almost impossible to keep tabs on our own elected officials, let along 535 of them. But with one click of a computer, that’s all about to change.

There’s a new browser plug-in called Greenhouse, and it’s exposing all the money that’s flowing into politicians’ campaigns.

Invented by 16-year old Nick Rubin, Greenhouse’s motto is “Some are red, Some are blue, All are green.” And that’s the purpose of this browser plug-in, to provide an accurate breakdown of politicians’ campaign contributions.

So how did a teenager become an aficionado of political campaign donations? Well, it all started when Rubin was giving a presentation on corporate personhood in the seventh grade. While doing research, he found that the sources of income for Congress members aren’t readily available.

Rubin then began learning how to code, and he decided to combine his two great passions – politics and coding – into one. From that, Greenhouse emerged.

The plug-in’s name is a play on words: Green for the color of money and house for the two houses of Congress. For Rubin, it’s also a metaphor for the purpose of his app.

“The name also implies transparency,” Rubin tells Vice. “Greenhouses are see through and they are built to help things thrive.”

Using Greenhouse is easier than, well, growing a plant. Once the plug-in is downloaded, the name of every politician will be highlighted in any article you’re reading. All you have to do is hover over the name and a little box will appear containing detailed contribution information‚ including amounts and where the money come from. This way, when your representative is supporting a bill, you can see if there’s money talking and swaying the vote.

All of the information comes from the 2012 election data, which was the last full election cycle. With the completion of the 2014 elections, Rubin plans to update the app to include those numbers. In the meantime, it’s possible to view 2014 data now by clicking on the name of the politician at the top of the window or the Opensecrets.org link in the pop-up.

Right now, Greenhouse is available for Chrome, Firefox and Safari browsers, and it’s completely free. That’s because for Rubin, accessibility is the most important thing.

“That’s exactly why I designed Greenhouse with simplicity in mind, so that everyone — even kids — are able to understand it,” Rubin says. “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.”

We certainly can hope, right?

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