There are 132 democracies in the world. And none of them have easily searchable, usable legislative databases.
For author and journalist Naomi Wolf, this was a problem. As she researched her books The End of America and Give Me Liberty, she realized people could not interact with legislation the way the Founders had intended. The books covered how ordinary people can engage in the democratic system.
Both books were best sellers, showing people were not apathetic, just confused. There were barriers to understanding the system and affecting change. While the books were a good jumping off point, Wolf says they were a poor way to communicate; she needed digital tools.
In 2012, she launched DailyClout and in January of this year, the product, BillCam was released. BillCam provides the latest copy of federal and state bills in the US. The easily searchable database allows viewers to search by region or keyword.
“You get search results, as a journalist, the search results are very exciting,” Wolf says. “You can see patterns, 22 identical bills in 22 states, or you can see the news behind the press releases or the statements from elected officials.”
The BillCam widget can be imbedded in articles, providing real time updates to the bill and allowing readers to vote on it, share it and tweet to the bill sponsor on social media.
For journalist Haley Snyder, this has been a wonderful tool to make her articles more interactive.
She was a 21-year-old college student, aspiring to be a journalist and “essentially complaining on the internet.” But then, using BillCam, she saw Christina Garcia’s bill about the Tampon Tax in California.
Snyder was one of the first journalists to see and write about the bill. The article was retweeted by Assemblywoman Garcia and gained traction across the country. The bill was so popular that six other states passed similar legislation.
Snyder uses the tool for research. It allows her to follow legislation and filter information to easily find legislation she cares about.
“The tool has helped me notice bills that were being manipulative, or misleading, which I never would have known about otherwise,” she says. “For example, I wrote this article about how BillCam helped me find deceptive abortion bills. Some of the bills I was talking about in this article were titled inappropriately, but BillCam allowed me to see what the lawmakers proposing the bills were truly after: defunding planned parenthood.”
The non-partisan platform allows journalists to keep an eye on legislation and Wolf says it will provide a great service to the readers.
“When ordinary people are allowed to understand what’s in the stuff being passed in their names, they can take action,” she says.
Kirsten is the Social Media and Blog Editor at the News Media Alliance.