PRESS RELEASE: MAPLight.org California Gives Citizens a Front Row Seat to the CA State Legislature

FOIA Settlement Paves Way for New Government Transparency Tools

BERKELEY, CA, September 28, 2010--MAPLight.org and the First Amendment Coalition settled a freedom of information lawsuit last year against the Office of Legislative Counsel of the State of California, giving journalists, bloggers, and citizens immediate access to the electronic voting records of lawmakers in Sacramento.

Today, MAPLight.org, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research organization that illuminates the connection between money and politics, launched an expanded website, MAPLight.org California, that gives citizens a simple way to view for themselves patterns of money and influence in the California State Legislature.

"The goal of MAPLight.org California is to give Californians a simple dashboard view of their government," said Daniel Newman, MAPLight.org's executive director. "In the past, citizens faced the daunting task of navigating complicated government websites to figure out how their lawmakers voted and track the interest groups influencing the government. Now, MAPLight.org's transparency tools allow quick and easy access to information so people can research the issues they care about."

The expanded MAPLight.org California site goes beyond just presenting government information in an easy-to-access way. It also ties that information together, revealing never-before-seen links between campaign contributions, the interest groups that make them, and how lawmakers vote. The site's campaign contribution data is provided by the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

An earlier launch of the MAPLight.org California site this year included campaign contribution search tools. Today’s expansion adds complete records of bills, floor votes, and committee votes, as well as a database of interest-group support and opposition to legislation.

Below is an overview of MAPLight.org California's government transparency tools:

California Legislative Information:
Shows detailed records of bills, votes (committee & floor), laws, legislators, and interest groups.

Bills
Votes (on any bill)
Legislators
Interest Groups

California Campaign Finance Information:
Provides a detailed search tool that shows campaign contributions given by any company, industry, or individual to any current member of the California State Legislature.

Search by Company
Search by Interest Group
Search by Legislator

Money and Votes Intersection:
MAPLight.org engineers have combined three databases of information revealing, for the first time, the intersection between money & votes in the California State Legislature. The three databases of information--campaign finance, legislative voting, and interest group support and opposition--show, within a day of each vote, how much money interest groups, in support of or opposition to a bill being voted on, gave each lawmaker, and how those contributions align with the way that each lawmaker voted on the same bill.

Example: A recent health care bill, AB 2578, in the California State Legislature would have required insurance companies to get government approval before increasing rates. The bill failed in the Senate (16-19) on August 31, 2010 with five Democrats joining all Republicans in voting 'No,' and four Democrats 'Not Voting.'

Total Contributions Tool
:
The Total Contributions tool shows total contributions given to members of Senate by interest groups that supported and opposed the bill. In this example, the interest groups that opposed this bill (i.e. Physicians, Accident & health insurance, Chambers of commerce, Pro-business organizations) gave $1,569,629, or 73% more, than groups that supported passage of the bill (i.e. Teachers unions, Teamsters unions, Health care services, Minority & ethnic groups, Elderly issues and Social Security) who gave $908,352. See image below for a more detailed view or click here.

Total-contribs-tool-example

Contributions by Vote Tool: This tool breaks down contributions from supporting/opposing interests groups based on the way the legislators receiving those contributions voted. Search results can be customized by party, vote, date range, interest group, and more. To determine the total amount of campaign contributions received by the five Democrats who joined all Republicans in voting 'No' and the four Democrats 'Not Voting' simply filter by party and vote to reveal that these nine Democrats received, on average, 65% more from opposition groups than they did from groups supporting the measure.

Timeline of Contributions Tool: This tool shows a timeline of campaign contributions to state legislators in the years, months and days leading up to a floor vote.

*Methodology: Contributions data provided by the National Institute on Money in State Politics. Bill example, AB 2578, includes reported contributions to of Senators in office on day of vote, from, July 1, 2006 – June 30, 2010. For further details about our data sources and methodology click here.

Producer/Editor's note: Daniel Newman, MAPLight.org's executive director, is available for interviews and 15-minute site demos. Please contact: Pamela Heisey, 415.299.0898 or pamela@maplight.org. Video of Mr. Newman can be found here.

Connect with MAPLight.org on Twitter and Facebook. You can also subscribe to our MAPLight.org California and MAPLight.org Congress research blog RSS feeds here.

About MAPLight.org:
MAPLight.org is a nonpartisan, nonprofit, 501(c)(3) organization based in Berkeley, California. Its mission is to illuminate the connection between Money and Politics (MAP) using our groundbreaking database of campaign contributions and legislative votes. MAPLight.org combines data from the Federal Election Commission, the Center for Responsive Politics, GovTrack.us, the National Institute on Money in State Politics (NIMSP), the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission, and other sources to better inform Americans and local and national media about the role of special-interest money in our political system.

MAPLight.org has received numerous awards including a Knight-Batten Award for Innovations in Journalism, a James Madison Freedom of Information Award from the Society of Professional Journalists Northern California Chapter, and a Webby nomination for best Politics website. To learn more, please visit: MAPLight.org. If our work has been helpful to you, please consider supporting us. >

Media Contact

Pamela Behrsin
Communications
Office: (510) 868-0894
pamela@maplight.org