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Show me the money


There was lots of activity on Twitter today about the launch of Subsidyscope. The site “aims to raise public awareness about the role of federal subsidies in the economy.”

In this vein it has launched its first project to track the Treasury Department’s Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), or commonly referred to as the ‘bailout’. The New York Times has a bailout tracker, but the Subsidy scope database is much more sophisticated and visually appealing. A table and chart are available  displaying information data on each TARP transaction including which companies received funds, when they received them and how much they received.

A quick view of the chart visualization shows some of the largest recipients as Citigroup, Bank of American and AIG. Further details can be downloaded in .csv format allowing others to create their own mashups with the data.

Subsidy costs

Jim Morris explains how the TARP transactions become subsidies when the government pays more than the market value for stock, or makes loans at below-market rates. Given this the CBO estimates quarter of the $247 billion allocated by the Treasury constitutes a subsidy. The rate of subsidies differ significantly with the automobile companies GM and Chrysler estimated at 63 percent, in contrast to an average rate of 26 percent.

Future transparency

The Subsidy scope site looks like it could be a fantastic platform to make all kinds of subsidy information much more transparent. Hopefully, it can add other industry databases, such as Agriculture and Defense. Sites such as farmsubsidy provide data on EU agricultural subsidies by Country and recipient. Such an addition to Subsidy scope would be hugely informative, given the large government spending in this area.

Future improvements to the site will include graphics and additional documents. Additional visualisations in relation to number of employees, location of headquarters etc. would also be insightful. It might be worthy to note Ellen Miller’s comments on transparency for additional features to include.

“If I search for Exxon, I want one-click disclosure,” she says. “I want to see who its pac is giving money to, who its executives and employees are supporting, at the state and federal levels; who does its lobbying, whom they’re meeting with and what they’re lobbying on; whether it’s employing former government officials, or vice versa, if any of its ex-employees are in government; whether any of those people have flown on the company’s jets. And then I also want to know what contracts, grants, or earmarks the company has gotten and whether they were competitively bid.”

Linking to other sites such as fedspending.gov would highlight more information on these companies and their relationship with the government. Nevertheless, Subsidy scope looks like a fantastic addition to the increasing number of sites making visually transparent important government data.

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