An interest group logs a letter with a legislator in support of a bill. A day before the vote, the same group donates a few thousand bucks to the lawmaker who carries it, then maybe a few other key committee members for good measure. All the lawmakers vote yes. The bill passes.
Seems a little fishy, right?
Quid pro quo in government is rarely so simple, but it has certainly been difficult to track. So this week, nonprofit campaign finance watchdog group MAPLight.org released some new tools designed to make the process easier.
Drawing on a model that it has used for years with the U.S. Congress, MAPLight has upgraded its California-centric website to more easily show the relationships between campaign contributions from private interests and votes from state legislators.
In their own words:
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.
The site appears to draw its interest group support/opposition information from official declarations posted in bill analyses – lists that are notoriously incomplete. Still, the data shows relationships between those groups and the votes of lawmakers in a way that has never been so easy to explore: