Media Watch: Wired’s Big Miss

Wired magazine has decided to wade into the world of campaign finance.  In a post on their website yesterday, entitled “Who Bought Your Politician? Check With Our Embeddable Widget,” Wired introduced a so-called “Influence Tracker”:

Ask politicians whether campaign contributions influence their decisions, and they’ll tell you certainly not.

Ask any citizen, and they’ll likely give the opposite answer.

With that in mind, we’re re-introducing a web-based embeddable widget — for anybody to use — that lists the top 10 donors and their contributions to any member of the House and Senate, their opponents, and the presidential candidates. Wired updated the widget in conjunction with Maplight, the Berkeley, California-based nonprofit dedicated to following money and politics.

“Corporate influence in politics has gone off the charts, and it’s more important than ever for voters to understand who is financing candidates,” said Evan Hansen, editor in chief of Wired.com. “Maplight has done the hard work of compiling the data. At Wired, we’re happy to help get that information out to the wider public, and share it as broadly as possible with this web-based embeddable widget.”

Like many outlets we suspect are in favor of campaign finance reform, Wired conflates contributions to candidates from individuals and PACs with contributions from actual companies.  For example, according to this app, the top contributor to Nancy Pelosi is Occidental Petroleum Corporation, while the top contributor to Darrell Issa is WilmerHale.

By not acknowledging in the app the difference between donations from people who work for a certain employer and donations from the organization with which they are employed, Wired is perpetuating a myth that democracy is bought by campaign contributions from corporations.  The truth is, it is not legal for candidates to accept money from corporations. They can, however, accept donations from PACs.

Unfortunately, the data this app is built around is reform-group inspired fiction, where individual and PAC contributions limited by law represent a credible corruption interest.  Wired is doing a disservice to its readers by perpetuating the falsehood that corporations buy politicians by dumping money into their campaign war chests, all the while demonstrating why the current disclosure regime is completely out of control.  The app they are promoting links the individual donor information (required by the FEC) to that individual’s place of employment and lists the employers name, thereby giving the anti-speech crowd a platform upon which to create the false image that the companies themselves are responsible for supporting (and implicitly corrupting) candidates, rather than individuals expressing support for people running for office.

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