Not old enough to vote, 16-year-old builds money-in-politics plug-in

(Courtesy: Nick Rubin/Greenhouse)
(Courtesy: Nick Rubin/Greenhouse)

Nick Rubin was 10 days into a month-long high school trip to China when he decided to come home this week.

And not because he was homesick or got sick of dumplings.

The 16-year-old of Seattle spent the better part of the last year building a database of members of Congress and their campaign contributors. It went live in June, and began generating considerable buzz online. He wanted to be stateside to help promote it.

Here’s how it works: Once you download his plug-in, which he called “Greenhouse,” you can hover your mouse over any member of Congress’s name that shows up in any online story and a pop-up scorecard appears, like the one for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) pictured here.

Did we mention he’s 16?

“I hope they use it when reading their political news,” Nick told the Loop on Thursday. “Hopefully people will learn for themselves the influence of money behind these [policy] decisions. The money story behind the news story is the real story.”

Self-taught in computer coding, Nick spent 10 months building “Greenhouse” using campaign finance data available from Opensecrets.org to show what industries give to which candidates. For each politician, Nick’s program also shows the percentage of the contributions that come from individuals giving less than $200.

For instance, only 4.8 percent of Rep. Nancy Pelosi‘s (D-Calif.) contributions are from small donors. The same goes for outgoing Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.). The motto of the site? “Some are red. Some are blue. All are green.”

“Even kids my age are able to see this data and recognize it’s a problem, we’ll be growing up in this political system,” he said. “As I went through the process and entered the information, what stood out to me is the scale of this issue.”

Nick said he was inspired by a 7th grade project on “corporate personhood” and wanted to educate people about what and who influences American politics. He said he hopes that when an issue comes up in the news, like energy policy or health care, people will use his plug-in to help explain why a politician might be falling on one side or the other.

He’s 16.

Correction: An earlier version of this story inaccurately reported Nick’s last name. The story has been corrected.

Colby Itkowitz is a national reporter for In The Loop.
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