If I Had All the Time In the World

4 12 2008

There is a great source of political information at opensecrets.org.  This site will tell one who/what/which, individuals, companies/corporations and PACs gave money to individual politicians, political causes or parties.  One can enter one’s zip code and get a list of local politicians and where they got their money from.  One may also look up any politician one desires and find out where their contributions came from.  The same is true of corporations, one may put in a corporation and find out where they are putting their money.

If I had all the time in the world, and unlimited resources, I’d build a digital collection that would do the same for the bail out cash.  That is, where it is going and what that organization is doing with the money.  Later it would show how much money is being/has been repaid.

I would also build an earmark or pork belly digital collection.  One could look up which politician added which earmarks, how many they’ve added, how many their state, city, etc, has received, how many have they proposed, etc.

One could also build the same type of collection for bills introduced, anti-gay bills, pro-life bills, anti civil liberty bills, etc.  I think these tools would be invaluable in the voting process.  This might prove to be especially true for younger voters.  They are typically under represented in the turnout of elections and they are more tech savvy, and more likely to get their news online, than older voters who are more likely to get their information from news papers, TV, books, etc.

I now arrive at a point of consternation.  One’s dollar votes.  Take for example the recent boycott by pro gay marriage Californians of organizations that donated to the anti gay marriage cause.  I am astounded that this is controversial.

The argument has been made, by Chomsky, Watts and others, that one’s dollar votes are really all the American public has left.  By ‘public’ I mean those of us that make less than a million or so a year.  Politicians, including Obama, probably – we’ll see (and I hope I’m wrong), are loyal to their donors.  Businesses donate to get favourable legislation passed.  If one chooses to give one’s commerce to a business that donates to a politician who votes pro-life (for example), that business has more money to donate.  If a large, informed, group of consumers choose to ‘give’ their money to businesses that donate to pro-choice politicians, that cause would get more money and the other side would get less.  This seems like an idea that free market proponents could get behind, let the market dictate.

We, the public, control the vote.  We, the public again, also control where our money goes.  If there was a place to go to see, more closely and easily, what businesses were doing with our money, we could make our dollar votes count for more.

This doesn’t just go for business donations, CEO’s and other officers who make their money from our commerce give HUGE sums to politicians.  We can aim that money.  If we give them less revenue, they can not spend as much on politicians.

So, digital collections could be a force for change, or status quo, but a force nonetheless, simply by existing.  One only needs to build it.  Also, one needs to promote this.  Thinking of all the news stories and controversy that arose when a group of people started making their dollar votes heard, this is a collection that is bound to get a lot of free press, just by existing.

It feels kind of weird to have seen knowledge about what businesses, and those who run them, do with ‘our’ money, be so controversial.  It feels the same as when religious right type groups call for boycotts of movies, Harry P. comes to mind, because they didn’t like its message vs a religious right type group that calls to ban the release of a movie or TV stations existence.  The phrase “if you don’t like don’t go/watch/buy it,” comes to mind.  A boycott is consistent with that idea, a ban is not.  Boycotts do not take away someone’s right to buy whatever one wants.  A ban does.  A ban, carried to its logical conclusion, end is fascism.  A ban is a group forcing something on another group of people.  A boycott is choosing not to spend one’s money somewhere, there is nothing forced on anybody.  Choice vs force.

Why are GM, Ford & Chrysler moving away from production of SUV’s?  It is not because they are selling like flapjacks but the CEO’s decided that it would be better for the planet if they made a fleet that emitted less CO2.  It is because people stopped buying them.  That logic is true across the board for businesses.  Even if some company wanted to make a green fleet of cars, if they didn’t sell, they’d be fiscally forced to stop production.

I guess they bottom line is this, since our money is being used to political ends anyway, it would be great if there was a place where consumers could go for quick and easy (Herr Zipf would have my back on this) information about what their money was supporting, they could have a say, an informed say, about what that money spent, said for them.