March 15, 2012

MapLight unveils new tool with Wisconsin capabilities

MapLight, a national nonpartisan research organization that explores the connections between money and politics, has unveiled a new feature that allows for the tracking of bills by topic area.

This new tool, Topic Pages, can be used by media and other members of the public to track bills by issue area in the U.S. Congress, as well as two state legislatures, Wisconsin and California.

Topic Pages combines a MapLight’s research data on specific subject areas, such as “Business and Labor,” “Education,” and “Health and Welfare.” It then presents relevant data related to individual bills within that topic area.

To use this function to search topic areas in Congress, visit http://maplight.org/us-congress/topic

For topic areas in Wisconsin, visit: http://maplight.org/wisconsin/topic

In either case, what appears on the left side of the screen is a menu of 10 topic areas, including “Budget and Economy,” “Culture and Social Issues,” and “Government Affairs.” These can be searched as categories or by various listed subcategories.

For instance, clicking on the category “Natural Resources” presents a screen that contains information about key companies, legislators and industries.

Here the key companies in terms of contributions given are identified as Wisconsin Energy, Alliant Energy and the Tavern League of Wisconsin. The key legislators in terms of the number of bills sponsored in this topic area are Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, and Reps. Alvin Ott, R-Forest Junction, and Terese Berceau, D-Madison.

The site can also be used to mine information on individual bills. For instance, both the category “Natural Resources” and subcategory “Environmental Protection” link to bills including SB 111. This bill, which passed the Legislature in February and was signed into law by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker on March 7, barred the state Department of Natural Resources from requiring air pollution control permits for indirect sources.

The site identifies support for the bill coming from several sources, including Aggregate Producers of Wisconsin Inc., Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce and the Wisconsin Realtors Association, and calculates that, between July 1, 2007 and June 30, 2011, these sources gave more than $150,000 to members of the state Senate who were in office when the bill was voted on. It lists no registered opponents.

Similar searches can be done for other topic areas and bills.