Unfluence Project Launched!

Greg Michalec and I just launched a website that allows users to interactively explore political contribution data as a network map. We won first prize in the Sunlight Foundation Mashup competition! Try your own query at http://unfluence.net/

This was done as an entry in the Sunlight Foundations Mashup Contest. Cross your fingers that we win and get some resources to continue the project! ;-)

If I may quote myself from the project’s about page:

We are excited about the possibility of creating a clean and intuitive way to explore political contribution data. This project was built to test the idea of visualizing candidates and their contributors as a browseable network. A sort of quick visual datamining tool for transparency that everyday people can use. Putting the data in a network form also makes it possible to compare patterns of giving across various states and interest groups.

How does it work?

A query is generated from your search settings and sent to National Institute on Money in State Politics’ API which looks in their databases and returns a list of matching candidates as an xml file.  For each candidate we get a list of the top contributors, and discard any with contributions below the value threshold you set.  This donor-recipient information is formatted into a network and passed to a program called GraphViz that computes positions for the nodes and draws it (with help from ImageMagik).  The image is passed back to you.  When you click on a node, we send queries to NIMSP and Project VoteSmart to check if there is information available (this requires some hacked scraping and matching code) for that candidate, and include the links in the info bubble.  The visual effects are provided by script.aculo.us.  

Where do the data come from?

The state-level contribution data is compiled by the National Institute on Money in State Politics, a non-profit:

“…dedicated to accurate, comprehensive and unbiased documentation and research on campaign finance at the state level. The Institute develops searchable databases, makes them available to the public online, and analyzes the information to determine the role campaign money plays in public policy debates in the states.”

“The Institute receives its data in either electronic or paper files from the state disclosure agencies with which candidates must file their campaign finance reports. The Institute collects the information for all state-level candidates in the primary and general elections and then puts it into a database.”  (more about data)

Various portions of the database are then made accessible via an API so that programs like ours can use it.  

We also provide links to data available from the VoteSmart site for many incumbents in recent years.  They provide very useful data like biographical summaries, surveys of candidates’ positions on current issues, ratings by various interest groups, and voting records.  This
data is not available for candidates from less recent years, and we may notalways correctly match up to their data.

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