UT-Austin students create tool exhibiting police PAC contributions to local representatives

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Photo Credit: Barbra Daly | Daily Texan Staff

Two UT students launched a website last week that allows its users to learn about campaign contributions representatives receive from police political action committees in Texas local elections.

The tool, called PAC-IT-UP, was created to support national protests against police brutality after the killing of George Floyd. The site allows users to see the total amount of police PAC contributions to their local officials, and gives them the option to email those officials requesting that they donate the same amount to a racial justice organization.

The site was created by Abby Krishnan and Ritvik Annam, co-presidents of Texas Civic Tech Project, an organization that allows STEM students to participate in tech-related politics and advocacy projects like PAC-IT-UP.

“We wanted to allow people to get access to this information, but then more than that, to do something with it,” said Krishnan, a computer science senior and co-founder of Texas Civic Tech Project. 

Annam, a computer science and economics senior, said many people know they can contact their representatives, but it can be difficult to take the first step. He said a big motivation for the PAC-IT-UP website was creating a tool that would make the first step less daunting.

“When someone already has that template up and ready for you, it's just much easier to send out that email about something you care about, and actually make the effort to make that change you want to see,” Annam said.

 

While they considered simply putting the representatives’ contact information on the site, Krishnan said they created the precrafted email feature instead to allow users to easily engage with a representative in less than three clicks.

“If a certain representative was able to get an influx of emails, they would see the need or the attitude of a lot of the people that they represent and choose to donate the money but also reconsider taking this kind of money in the future,” Krishnan said.

Mechanical engineering senior Malini Josiam said when she first saw the website she was surprised by how helpful it was. She said the simplicity of the email function on the site encouraged her to contact her representatives immediately after she saw their police PAC contributions.

“There are so many movements right now to understand police funding and how that relates to anti-racism and racial injustice,” Josiam said. “I really liked how they created something that’s productive and that people can use to make a difference.”