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New WI Website Shows Connection between Money and Politics

April 27, 2011

MADISON, Wis. - Wisconsin citizens have a new and easy way to track the influence of money on politics, thanks to a collaboration between two nonpartisan organizations.

California-based MapLight and the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign have launched MapLight.org/Wisconsin to help citizens connect the dots. Mike McCabe, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign's executive director, sees the website as throwing some light on something that's often in the dark.

"What we thought was just the most important thing is that this has got to be a publicly accessible site. It shouldn't be password-protected. It shouldn't be a member-only thing. We want this to be available to any citizen."

Democracy works best when citizens are informed, McCabe says, adding that the new website will allow citizens and journalists to quickly and easily trace the relationships between money and votes.

"That's what this is really all about, trying to throw light on what is otherwise something that is being done in the darkest recesses of our state Capitol or our nation's Capitol."

The site has easy-to-use tools that show detailed records of bills, votes, legislators and interest-group support and opposition, as well as information about which groups are giving money to support or oppose key bills. A "timeliness tool" shows when contributions were received in relation to when a vote was taken.

McCabe believes the new site will enhance democracy through transparency.

"The public interest ends up being ignored because elected officials are so darned busy catering to the less than 1 percent of the population that supplies all of the political money. What we're trying to do is make it even easier for people to connect the dots between these campaign donations and the decisions that are being made."

McCabe predicts that the website will create new opportunities for investigative journalism and citizen exploration of the impact of special-interest money in Wisconsin politics.

The new website is at maplight.org/wisconsin.

Tim Morrissey, Public News Service - WI