Local organization tracks money and politics

September 15, 2008 7:30:38 PM PDT
The turmoil on Wall Street is fueling political attacks, but so far it's done nothing to help consumers with credit problems. A bill that could help has stalled in Congress and ABC7 takes at look at a local organization that is tracking that bill and the money behind it.

The bill is the Credit Card Holder's Bill of Rights. It would prevent credit card companies from doing things like jacking up interest rates retroactively. Maplight.org is a non-profit organization that tracks congressional legislation. They also track political contributions.

In a converted two-bedroom apartment in Berkeley, Maplight.org is following the money.

"I come from a tech background. I started this website to shine a light on the connections between the river of money that flows into politics and how it effects people," says Dan Newman.

Specifically, Dan Newman and his team have developed a website that links political contributions to votes on legislation.

"Our site makes these nice graphs and charts that show when the money came in when the votes were, the correlations and all that."

Congress voted to give telecom companies immunity from eavesdropping lawsuits.

"The House Democrats who changed their position got twice as much money from Sprint Verizon and AT&T."

A bill was introduced to levy a windfall profits tax on oil companies.

"We found that the senators who voted in favor of this of taxing the oil companies got only a fraction as much money from the oil companies as the senators who voted the other way."

On Maplight, you can even track bills that are still in committee like the Credit Card Holder Bill of Rights Act.

"You can see that the groups that didn't want this law, like the credit card companies. They gave $341,000 to Barney Frank, who is the Chair of the Financial Service Committee, and we compare that with the tiny amount, $10,000 that he got from the consumer groups and the groups that wanted this law."

A spokesman for Chairman Barney Frank says the bill has been in his committee since February. But, Frank voted for the bill. It just hasn't yet been scheduled for a vote in house and he couldn't say if it would be scheduled before Congress adjourns. Newman says it's symptomatic of the river of money that flows through politics.

"The number one place to get that money is from these interests groups that want things to happen or in this case, don't want things to happen," says Newman.

On the Credit Card Holders Bill of Rights, a New York Times editorial calls on Speaker Nancy Pelosi to put it up for vote before the November election.

Her press secretary told ABC7 that she's very busy and he couldn't get an answer as to when she'll call the bill.

But if you want to see whose see the actual Credit Card Holder's Bill of Rights, click here.


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