Freeing the press - Page 5

Longtime media crusaders and students battling censorship honored by the Society of Professional Journalists with James Madison Awards in 2009

A Paramount picture featuring Angelina Jolie as Austin is reportedly in production — a fittingly karmic return of celebrity for someone who has worked so long under the public radar. (Breena Kerr)

Electronic access


Once upon a time, before 2005, the only way to connect the dots between the dollars contributed to politicians and the special access and favorable laws they subsequently granted to contributors was to wade through reams of campaign finance filings. While everyone knew that money talked, few knew just how much campaign cash was dictating public policy.

But now, thanks to, a Berkeley nonprofit that uses sophisticated analytical tools to produce visually pleasing, easy-to-use charts, there is now a fun, simple way to follow the money.

MAPlight began by putting up data connected to the pro-consumer bill informally known as the Car Buyer's Bill of Rights. "The data showed that car dealers gave twice as much to Sacramento legislators who voted to kill the bill than to those who voted to pass it," executive director David Newman recalled.

Next, MAPlight pioneered the combination of campaign dollars and politicians' votes when it launched its U.S. Congress site in May 2007. Most recently its research showed that House members who voted for the $700 billion financial bailout bill received 50 percent more money from the financial services industry than those who voted against it.

Newman plans to expand to all 50 states. "Wherever there is journalism to be done, MAPlight can provide support and help promote openness and transparency in government." (Sarah Phelan)

The Northern California Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists hosts its annual James Madison Awards dinner March 18 in the New Delhi Restaurant, 160 Ellis St., SF. The no-host reception begins at 5:50 p.m. followed by dinner and the awards programs at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $50 for SPJ members and $70 for non-members. For reservations or information, contact Freedom of Information Committee chair David Greene at (510) 208-7744 or or visit