Show Me the Money: MAPLight Illuminates Money And Politics

If you’re helping pupils navigate the confusing realm of politics, civics, law, and other issues related to government, consider asking your learners the following question: Is there a connection between campaign donations and legislative votes? Although the answer may seem laughably obvious, the implications of the response are anything but amusing. What might inform a neutral observer’s answer to the question? What evidence could a citizen use to seek clarification? Is there a beacon to guide a truly curious individual on such a quest?


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MAPLight, uses a public database to shine a light on the links that exist between campaign donations made to political figures and legislative voting records. Not surprisingly, there are more than a few politicians who do not appreciate the glare of such attention on their behavior and decisions.

UPDATE: After writing this post, I came across a news item that seemed particularly relevant to the point I was trying to make. Robert Pear of the New York Times reports,

“In the official record of the historic House debate on overhauling health care, the speeches of many lawmakers echo with similarities. Often, that was no accident. Statements by more than a dozen lawmakers were ghostwritten, in whole or in part, by Washington lobbyists working for Genentech, one of the world’s largest biotechnology companies.”

I’ve included a citation for any teacher or student who may be wish to refer to the article.

Pear, R. (2009, November 14). In House, Many Spoke With One Voice: Lobbyists’. New York Times. Retrieved November 14, 2009, from

Related resources:

  • If you’re teaching students how to gain a better understanding of the government of the United States, you’ll want to get acquainted with the Sunlight Foundation because it also provides a great deal of clarity.
  • Visitors who access Capitol Words are able to track and visualize the most used words in the Congressional Record. The words being tracked and visualized are displayed in more than one manner. They appear in a word cloud as well as in list view.
  • Kim Rees of Periscopic (an impressive interactive design firm specializing in information visualization), points out that curious educators, pupils, and citizens should also explore Congress Speaks as it’s a great way to review the words spoken by the 110th Congress.

Celebrate Independence Day, Know Your Rights

Well, I’m back in Georgia now. I’m glad to be home as life here in the South (or, at least, the portion of it where I reside) is a little more relaxed, a little more peaceful than the hustle and bustle that suffuses our nation’s capitol. That said, I can’t help wondering what it’s like in Washington, DC today. I imagine it’s hot and crowded with lots of traffic. People are probably poring over all those wonderful monuments to liberty. After all, today is an important day there and everywhere else in this great land of ours.


July the 4th is one of many U.S. holidays that many Americans cherish and enjoy. However, it’s a day that holds a special place in the hearts of many of our citizens. It’s a day of barbecue, fireworks, and the nationwide celebration of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. July the 4th is also an excellent day for learning. Thanks to technology we can easily access, read, revisit, and reflect upon the revolutionary ideas expressed in the Constitution of the United States of America.

Why not revisit the bold proclamation that heralded our nation’s freedom and see why it was aptly referred to as the Declaration of Independence? Why not get reacquainted with the amendments that limit the powers of the federal government and protect the rights of all citizens, residents and visitors on United States territory? Today is more than just a day to fly a flag, grill a burger, and watch fireworks. Today is the day that we remember the birth of a nation dedicated to providing its citizens with fair treatment, equal opportunities, and the freedoms enshrined in and protected by our Constitution.

Informed citizens are the best citizens. Be the best citizen you can be. Get a refresher as to why the concept of checks and balances is still an important foundation upon which our liberty rests. A careful review of the importance of the separation of powers is a prudent means of correcting dangerous aspirations that ambitious office-holders may be contemplating. We place trust in those we vote into political office. We have the power–more importantly, the responsibility–to insure that our elected officials safeguard our liberties. Celebrate independence and freedom but, more importantly, preserve and practice these ideals.


Related links:

Capitol Idea: Capitol Words


If you’re teaching students how to gain a better understanding of the government of the United States, you’ll want to get acquainted with the Sunlight Foundation and its powerful project, Capitol Words. Visitors who access Capitol Words are able to track and visualize the most used words in the Congressional Record. The words being tracked and visualized are displayed in more than one manner. They appear in a word cloud as well as in list view.


Word cloud of most used terms in the Congressional Record

If, however, your pupils are curious about the most loquacious lawmakers, they can take a look at the site’s Heat Map of Vocal States.


Related links: While you and your learners are exploring these government-related resources, why not take a gander at Subsidyscope? It’s a site that was launched by the Pew Charitable Trusts that’s attempting to increase public awareness about the role of federal subsidies in the economy. Want to follow that money? You can.


Hail to the Chief!

Yes, it’s that time again–a Federal holiday known as Presidents’ Day. Specifically, it’s the day we officially observe Washington’s birthday. Why not use technology to “virtually” drop by the White House and ramble through our nation’s official guide to George Wasington and many other interesting individuals who’ve served in the Executive Branch of the United States Government?

If you’re really curious, the Miller Center of Public Affairs sponsors a treasure-trove of Executive Branch information called This extremely informative explores all manner of presidential data from Washington to our newest Commander-in-Chief. The site covers everything from each First Lady, every president’s nickname, to who served in a each cabinet. This rich resource provides excellent historical accounts of past Presidents, including images, quotes, and biographical information.

History, Hope, and Healing

What a moment to watch history, hope, and healing unfold! I’m sitting here in a Crowne Plaza hotel room in Atlanta, Georgia. My friend and co-worker, Mike and I have been following a number of media sources (both web-based and television) throughout the evening. Regardless of who won the election we both agreed that we and all of our fellow citizens need to put politics aside and get to work making our country the kind of nation where ALL children can grow up safe, smart, strong, and sure of hope and liberty. We need to be more than Democrats and Republicans. First and foremost, we need to be Americans.

Americans–real Americans–can and do rise above their differences to unite. Those who love this country may disagree. However, they are steadfast in their unwaivering dedication to the belief that everyone…everyone…has the opportunity to pursue a a better life. Americans, real, true patriotic Americans work together to build, maintain, and sustain a government of the people, by the people, for the people.

Obama’s victory speech:

McCain’s gracious concession speech:

“Whatever our differences, we are fellow Americans,”–John McCain

I went to sleep with the hope that made America famous.
I had the kind of a dream that maybe they’re still trying to teach in school.
Of the America that made America famous…and
Of the people who just might understand
That how together yes we can
Create a country better than
The one we have made of this land…

What Made America Famous

by Harry Chapin

Seeing What Makes Politics Tick

I know it’s going to be an interesting day.

For starters, I’m attending and presenting at GAETC 2008. When I’m not visiting with old friends and doing a little networking today, I’ll be earnestly conducting a session where the participants explore tech resources designed to help students visualize instructional concepts. Preparing for the session (and another centered on digital video-editing) has consumed most of time during the last few weeks. I want the attendees to leave with new and useful ideas about how they can make learning more engaging, efficient, and effective.

In the midst of all this conference excitement there’s a presidential election in progress. I’m so glad I voted early. That said, I’ll probably be visiting Election 2008 powered by Twitter as well as the following sites:

Related links:

  • The internet offers politically-minded individuals many opportunities to critically examine the demographic forces in play that may be influencing decision-making. Dropping by a site such as allows informed and novice voters to explore population statistics that bring context to political debates
  • Presidential Watch 08 is a site that generates a map of the political blogosphere.
  • For the curious, digitized voting guides via If the offerings housed at the site are found wanting, users may apply for an account and create their own.
  • Sponsored by the League of Women Voters Education Fund, the site known as Vote411 provides all manner of facts regarding voting in the United States of America and worth visiting.
  • Since it’s a pretty good bet that money plays such a major role in politics , the information at OpenSecrets should be required reading for voters.