For those tracking pension reform, here’s a handy way to follow the money in Wisconsin, which arguably birthed a heated nationwide discussion about public workers’ collective bargaining rights: MapLight.org, a nonpartisan organization that tracks the influence of money in politics, has launched a new website that provides what it calls “transparency tools that show a simple dashboard view of money's role in the Wisconsin State Legislature.”
"The goal of our Wisconsin site is to provide quick and easy access to information about campaign contributions, the interests of the groups that make them, and how the lawmakers that receive them vote, drawing back the curtain on how money influences legislation around the issues that people care most about," said Daniel Newman, MapLight.org's executive director.
This isn’t the first time that MapLight has tracked the money in key issues, but it is the first occasion that its engineers have combined three crucial databases—campaign contributions, legislative votes, and interest group support and opposition—to reveal the intersection between money and votes in the Wisconsin State Legislature.
"By centralizing data on contributions and votes, and combining that information with research on interest group bill support and opposition, MapLight.org will provide Wisconsin's watchdogs with insights critical to the functioning of our democracy, in a fraction of the time it would take to otherwise assemble these facts from disparate sources," said Andy Hall, executive director of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.
Under an agreement with MapLight.org, the Wisconsin Center For Investigative Journalism will investigate money and politics issues and serve as a resource to news organizations in Wisconsin, supported with a grant from the Open Society Institute, which philanthropist George Soros founded in 1984.
MapLight.org's data partner for campaign contributions is the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. Mike McCabe, WDC's executive director, said “This collaboration creates new opportunities for investigative journalism and citizen exploration of the impact of special interest money in Wisconsin politics"
One of the new website’s legislative data tools shows detailed records of bills, votes, legislators and interest group support and opposition. And the first example it provides is an analysis of, you guessed it, JR1AB 11—“an act relating to state finances, collective bargaining for public employees, compensation and fringe benefits of public employees, the state civil service system, the medical assistance program, etc.
And so far, the analysis reveals that opponents of the bill, which include major unions, have spent $280,000, or 6.7 times as much as supporters, who spent $42,000 and include residential construction, general business advocates, Conservative/Republican groups and Chambers of Commerce.