Economy & Policy

Checking Influence Review : See How Your Spending Is Exerting Political Influence

When it comes to deciding exactly where we spend our money, there are two types of people: those who worry about the political affiliations of the companies they do business with, and those who don’t.

If you are in the first category and want to keep up with the political activity of various companies, there is a great new tool that can help you easily find this information. And even if you didn’t mind knowing about it earlier, give it a try. I could give you some interesting insights that I’m sure you didn’t know about before.

The tool is called Checking Influence and is affiliated with the Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organisation that seeks to “use the power of the Internet to catalyse greater government openness and transparency.” Checking Influence gives you detailed information on the political trends of the companies you give your hard-earned money to. It tells you everything from supported politicians and lobbying issues to federal contributions and spending.

Checking Influence allows us, as consumers, to see how politics flows from Washington directly into our wallets, often without our realising it. The Sunlight Foundation created this tool to help Americans become more informed consumers and citizens. So when you finish your shopping list at your favorite retailers or online shopping sites, use Checking Influence when you’re done to find out where your money is really going. You may be surprised what you find.

How does it work

Checking Influence is a bookmarklet, a small application that attaches to your web browser and performs functions, generally related to data extraction. This particular bookmarklet is very simple and easy to use.

  1. First, add the Checking Influence bookmarklet to your browser’s bookmarks or bookmarks bar. You can do this by navigating here and dragging and dropping the blue “add me to bookmarks bar” button in the appropriate section of your browser.
  2. Once you’ve done that, go to any page that shows your recent spending transactions. Typically this would be one of your online credit card statements or your checking statement (for example, Chase Freedom credit card statement, Ally Bank account login, Mint.com, etc.)
  3. Once there, click the Check Influence button that you added to your browser’s toolbar in step 1. All political contributions and lobbying information will appear in most places where you recently spent your money.

If you are concerned about security, the site uses the same SSL encryption technology that banks use to protect your information. You can also get the same information on specific companies or politicians by entering them manually in the Influence Explorer.

Examples of

Looking at some relevant examples will probably help you see exactly how influence checking works. As I mentioned, the tool provides information related to the issues that companies have lobbied for and the politicians they support. For example, if you shop at Publix, the tool will tell you all the industries they clicked on. If you buy your gas from BP, then it will tell you whether or not they only support Democratic politicians. Regardless of how politically involved you consider yourself, this is powerful information.

Here’s a screenshot of what I found from Checking Influence for Barnes & Noble, Microsoft and Walmart.

Some of the additional cool facts I found based on my spending:

  • Amazon: Appears to support only Democrats.
  • Shell – has lobbied federal politicians on budgets and appropriations.
  • Office Depot – Appears to support strictly Republican incumbents.
  • Kroger’s – has lobbied the tobacco industry. TD Ameritrade – Appears to support only Republicans.

Checking Influence also displays a list of specific politicians a corporation has supported, as well as party affiliations. By clicking on each of the names, you can learn more about the politician and get a breakdown of the contributions he receives.

Finally, when you use this tool on one of your account pages that lists your spending transactions, Checking Influence gives you a breakdown of your total party donations weighted by the amounts of your purchases.

I’m not the most politically active person in the world, but I was surprised to find that most of my purchases were from companies that don’t even support the political party that I consider myself a part of. If that’s not enough motivation to at least take a look at this tool, then I don’t know what it is.

Final word

In summary, I believe that the Checking Influence tool would be a benefit to all of us as American consumers. Deciding where to spend our money can go a long way toward promoting change in Washington than all our complaints about cold water.

Personally, I am as explicit as they speak about the problems of the government, but if through my purchases I am supporting some of the people who I consider most responsible for the ills of the nation, then what good are my complaints? If I spoke more to my wallet (that is, my purchase options), then perhaps there would be a better chance of seeing some real change in this country. I’m just one person, but what if a hundred more people started to worry about lobbying and political contributions from these retailers? How about a thousand or even ten thousand? You get the idea.

Be sure to take a look at Checking for influence if you haven’t already. You may be surprised where your spending dollars are going. And with all this information now at your fingertips, you might think twice before heading back to your favourite stores.

What are your thoughts on the political affiliations of corporations in America? Feel free to share your opinions here.

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