The non-profit Sunlight Foundation, whose mission is to help others use the Internet to make information about the US government more accessible (and we've covered previously), recently released a very enlightening visualization of campaign contributions from 1990-2008, broken down by industry sectors and party lines:
The data for the chart came from The Center for Responsive Politics (whose ongoing work is "tracking money in U.S. politics and its effect on elections and public policy"). The chart was created in Google Spreadsheet, using the Motion Chart tool. You may enjoy the accompanying video by Sunlight's Larry Makinson:
The fun begins when you start interpreting the data and visualization, especially in light of the highly topical proposed bailout of United States financial system. For instance, Ellen Miller, in announcing this visualization, wrote:
Wonder just how Wall Street has become so influential on Capitol Hill that it can command the attention of the federal government from the President on down? The answer isn’t only in how gyrations in the stock market may affect the real economy. The answer is revealed by the fact that the finance, insurance and real estate (FIRE) industries that collectively are at the center of the current crisis are the single largest sector–by far–of all the major economic and interest groupings that give campaign contributions to federal politicians.
There are certainly many ways to interpret the data and we can thank organizations such as the Sunlight Foundation and the Center for Responsive Politics for getting the numbers out there so that the public can have discussions grounded in reliable data.
You might wonder how to create this visualization in the first place. The data to create the visualization is in fact available on OpenSecrets.org -- but you would need to do a bit of assembly work. Specifically, you would go to
to get a list of all the industries, broken down into 13 sectors. You would then grab data for each respective sectors -- for instance the finance, real estate, and insurance:
There is currently no direct source of data for the visualization. Perhaps one day, such data will be directly available from the OpenSecrets API.
See our Government Mashup and API Dashboard to learn more on how APIs and mashups are being used by governments around the world as well as advocacy groups and others.