Teenager Codes Plug-In to Expose Corruption

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A self-taught 16-year-old coder from Seattle, Washington, has created a Web browser plug-in that won’t let you forget the pervasive and corrupting influence of money in politics.

Called “Greenhouse,” the plug-in picks out the names of any members of Congress on a given Web page. Users can then mouse-over those members of Congress to see their top donors, and what percentage of their funding came from small-dollar donations. Here’s an example, taken from a story in today’s New York Times about climate skeptics’ opposition to new carbon emission regulations:

New York Times article referencing James Inhofe's climate skepticism.

 
Screengrab of a New York Times article, with Nicholas Rubin's "Greenhouse" plug-in installed.

Readers of this article, with the “Greenhouse” plug-in installed, might draw a connection between Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe’s climate skepticism and the money his 2012 campaign received from the oil and gas industry and the mining industry ($558,150 and $150,850 respectively).

Nicholas Rubin, the concerned (but not-yet-old-enough-to-vote) citizen behind the plug-in, first became interested in the issue when he gave a school presentation on corporate personhood while in the seventh grade. About a year later, Lawrence Lessig — the Harvard law professor and activist — provided Rubin with further inspiration. “I went to see Larry Lessig talk about campaign finance at the town hall here in Seattle. Both of these events sparked an interest in me,” Rubin told BillMoyers.com. “It made me angry. I remember asking my dad (multiple times) questions like ‘How is this legal?'”

When it came time to test the project, Rubin got in touch with Lessig, who signed on as the first beta tester. “He loved Greenhouse, and helped me by giving feedback and ideas along the way,” Rubin said.

Read more about the plug-in and try it out at Rubin’s site, allaregreen.us »

John Light is a reporter and producer for the Moyers team. His work has appeared at The Atlantic, Grist, Mother Jones, Salon, Slate, Vox and Al Jazeera, and has been broadcast on Public Radio International. He’s a graduate of Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. You can follow him on Twitter at @LightTweeting.

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