Envisioning a Firefox Extension for Political Transparency (With Mockups!)

JoeSolomon's picture

This post is based on a proposal I created for MAPLight.org in early April '08. The mockups are also dated to that time.

Firefox extensions have a huge, largely untapped potential for social change. By changing the way we interact with the web, a browser extension can highlight issues, expose relationships, and raise awareness as people browse the web. More specifically, a Firefox extension could help illuminate the connection between money and politics when and where that connection is often most needed -- when people search for and visit legislators' websites.

Imagine if every time you searched for a legislator in Google, you saw a small flashlight symbol (MAPLight's logo) next to the legislator's official URLs. So if you did a search for "Barack Obama" - this flashlight would be displayed next to Obama's two official websites - barackobama.com and barack.senate.gov. See:


When you hover over the flashlight, a pop-up box would appear with Barack Obama's total campaign contributions received as well as the top 5 interests funding his campaign.

Google is the most popular website in the United States; mashing this data into their search results could potentially make a huge difference when it comes to raising awareness about political contributions. This could also build upon the success of the Knowmore Firefox Extension - which integrates with Google, Yahoo, MSN, and AskJeeves (and is open source!).

Now imagine if every time you visited a politician's website (i.e - http://obama.senate.gov) the same flashlight symbol appeared in the top right corner of the site:

When you click the flashlight, a box would automatically appear on top of the legislator's website with the three latest news articles from Google News that reference that legislator's political contributions:

While this is a very rough mockup, can you imagine the potential of informing citizens of the latest news surrounding their representative's political contributions on the top of their representative's virtual homepage?

Sarah Schacht of KnowledgeasPower.org has also suggested including the legislator's top 3 contributors below the news - I think this is a great idea.

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By making political contribution data available in major search results and integrated into legislators' official websites, a browser extension could revoltionize how we connect the dots between financial contributions and their effects on our government.

The above mockups were inspired by MAPLight's work, but this extension could be spearheaded by any nonprofit org working to shed light on how money influences politics.

About the author:

Joe Solomon was the Project Lead on the Knowmore.org FireFox Extension and helped organize the Barack Obama Firefox Extension (just launched!). Joe is the currently the Lead Scientist and Evangelist for Social Actions Labs and is exploring with Peter Deitz and Eric Cooper the potential of integrating Firefox Extension-like features without requiring users to install an extension.

For more examples of political, nonprofit, and activist extensions, please join the Facebook Group "Firefox Extension for Social Change." You can also check out the extensions on Delicious tagged - "Foxforgood."