The past few years have given rise to lots of tools to increase transparency in government, led by groups such as the Sunlight Foundation. But it's important enough of an ideal that are never enough ways to be aware of exactly what our elected officials are up to. A new one from a grad student at NYU's famed ITP unit offers one of the simplest, cleanest methods we've seen yet.
The Congressional Forecast Contribution Explorer, created by Brian Clifton, begins with a simple request: enter a congressman. No need to browse through menus or search through news or anything like that: this is a single-issue site. You enter a congressman's name and up pops and nice interactive chart of that elected official's campaign contributions. (The data all comes from Open Secrets, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research group that traces money in politics.)
"The tool is meant to begin to show how a politician’s voting tendencies might have a relationship to the industries from which they are fundraising," writes Clifton on his site.
You can see contributions over time, separated by type (whether it's from a PAC or from individuals), and, my favorite, it lets you see the specific industries that are donating. For example: my hometown rep, Jim Gerlach (R-PA), takes the lion's share of his contributions from the medical industry, be they from hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, medical insurance agencies, or "other physician specialists." It doesn't give the names of individual donors; in an email, Clifton calls it an "overview" and a "snapshot" rather than a deep-dive. What's next for the project? Says Clifton:
The next phase of the project will include the voting record of each member of Congress alongside their contribution history, and the industries that publicly support/oppose the legislation. Once I have this, I can then begin to determine the relationship between when contributions are coming in and when votes are occurring.