A new website from a former middle school geography teacher aims to help consumers navigate the political implications of their spending habits by tracking major campaign donations by corporations. The beta version of the website Ethiq launched Monday.
“In essence, it’s a dating app but instead of matching you with men and women, it matches you with businesses that match your values,” said Darren Bates, the website’s founder and a 15-year Santa Monica resident. “It’s a way for people to have a voice each day in the political process without simply waiting to vote.”
After logging into beta.ethiq.com, users answer a series of questions gauging their opinion on a number of politically divisive issues, including immigration, gun control, the environment, taxes and education. The website’s algorithm then ranks 60 national corporations like Arby’s, Dunkin’ Donuts and Del Taco to best match your values.
Bates says tracking the money has been complicated and involved delving into decades of campaign finance disclosures from the Federal Election Commission and IRS 527 filings. Federal laws prohibit corporations from giving money directly to candidates, so Ethiq tracks ties between companies and officials through Political Action Committees.
“There’s also this whole world of dark money,” Bates said. “It’s impossible to give a complete picture of how companies influence politics because so much of the money is untraceable.”
Even when the money can be traced, contributions to competing parties and ideas can muddle results on the website. Some companies, like Trader Joe’s, appear to be neutral, with no traceable contributions to either party.
“Almost all companies seem to hedge. When you really look to the data you’ll see that companies give to republicans and democrats, maybe not evenly. They’re playing the long game,” Bates said. “This is not a black and white issue. They’re for the green, not for the red or blue.”
Some cases, however, are easier for the average voter to parse. Ethiq found that Wal-Mart, for example, gave 73 percent of its total contributions to Republican parties and committees over the past 25 years, about $9.4 million. The site found In-N-Out Burger has given 100 percent of contributions ($70,000) to the California Republican Party.
On the other side, Starbucks has given 73 percent of its total contributions to Democratic parties and committees, according to Ethiq.
“I’m just trying to present people with facts and then they can make educated decisions based on that,” Bates says.
He says the website is non-partisan and can be used by consumers across the political spectrum. Bates, who taught geography at Paul Revere Middle School in Brentwood for seven years, says his new website is a way to get involved.