Citizen activists are using mashups to shed new light on politics, lobbying and campaign financing, Wired reports.
For instance Maplight.org generated a report on donations to campaigns for and against a California bill to ban clear-cutting in old growth forests. Besides Maplight.org, other sites that expose financial data to casual web users are Opensecrets.org and Follow the Money, along with wiki-based political reporting resources like Congresspedia.
"Prior to the web, you'd have to visit a secretary of state's office and sort through paper records," says MapLight.org executive director Dan Newman. "The level of access that's now available to anyone at the click of a button is just tremendous."
Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, or CRP, the organization behind Opensecrets.org, says, "It's always been the case that there are too many stories in this data set for one class of people to mine. From our perspective, the more eyes, the better."
And things are moving forward: MapLight.org, which has to date focused on California, will extend its database to Congress. And in a Web2.0 twist will allow users to add their own data. User submissions must be approved by an administrator.
MapLight.org's open-data initiative epitomizes a technique known as "database journalism," a new reporting paradigm that allows citizens to act as consumers, custodians and contributors to vast wells of information stored in web databases.
MapLight.org's automated scripts scrape legislators' voting records from government websites. Public testimonies, official congressional records and news databases provide information on which special-interest groups support and oppose each bill. The congressional data for the mid-May launch is being supplied by the CRP.