Political Contributions Network

Hi – I just launched another network project courtesy of Gephi and Sigma.js, my two favorite tools of the moment. You can find it here, or in a full web version here. This one, like its immediate predecessor, is founded in politics, and more specifically in tracking political contributions – who gives to whom. The paths in this network detail thousands of political candidates, and the many PACs, corporations, foundations, and trade associations that help fund their campaign efforts. Of course these connections also create a sort of influence network that could never be achieved by individual voters, and help explain why so many decisions are made that run counter to the will of the people.

While this one doesn’t focus on dollar amounts, it nonetheless paints a compelling picture for how political influence is meted out. Fringe candidates, frequently outside the embedded American two party system, are depicted near the perimeter of the graph, receiving little or no support from most major donors. Incumbent Democrats and Republicans, on the other hand, are situated at the center of the network, receiving contributions from dozens or even hundreds of PACs, unions, corporations, and trade associations.

Here are a few screenshots from the graph, which is fully interactive through the use of filters, scrolling, zooming, and panning, thanks to the wonders of javascript via Sigma.js. First up is a shot of the full network:


The multiple colors reflect the multitude of political parties (yes, beyond the dominant two-party monopoly) plus the hordes of contributors – corporations, unions, trade associations, and more.

One of the great features of interactive networks is the ability to dive into the details. For starters, lets take a look at the Nancy Pelosi neighbor network, which should provide a nice glimpse into the donor network for an entrenched, influential Democratic candidate:


What we see is a well-connected network populated by dozens of contributors. Now let’s go to the other side of the aisle and take a look at the donor network of John Boehner, an influential Republican incumbent:


The Boehner network is even more dense than the Pelosi network. We should note that many contributing organizations may be found in both the Pelosi and Boehner camps, although the overlap will be somewhat mitigated by the Democrat versus Republican differences. What they do have in common are a huge number of contributors determined to influence policy, often at the expense of the voting public.

Our final screenshot displays many of the PACs in the network – more than 2,600 in total. The attribute pane on the right of the display will show each and every one of these when you use the category filter to the left of the screen:


I hope you find some value in navigating and learning more about the scores of organizations involved in trying to influence policy through congressional gatekeepers. Bear in mind we haven’t even touched on the unelected portions of the government residing in the halls of the CIA, FBI, and Department of Defense. That will be the subject of a future network.

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New US House Voting Patterns Network

Anyone who knows me well is aware of my general lack of enthusiasm for politics and politicians, so my latest network graph may come as a bit of a surprise. While I can’t express a lot of support for how my tax dollars are spent by the folks in DC, I can still make use of some of the data patterns they generate. Using data provided by govtrack.us (a non-government site), my latest Gephi project looks at the US House of Representatives votes over the last 4 months of 2014, specifically the ‘aye’ (yes) votes for each house vote.

The resulting graph lets us take a look at some general patterns, such as many cases where there is strong bi-partisan support for a bill. We can also see votes that failed, primarily in cases where the Democratic minority was unable to generate enough Republican support to pass a measure. Here are a few screenshots from the Gephi project; after that I’ll send you over to the interactive web version where you can search, zoom, pan, and otherwise interact with the data to your heart’s content.

First up is an overall view of the network, created using the Force Atlas 2 layout:

Here we can see the stereotypical view of Congress, with the blue Democrats on the left and red Republicans on the right. In the center are some very large nodes that depict near unanimous votes (nodes are sized by the number of ‘aye’ votes) with bi-partisan support. Darker gray nodes represent failed votes; note how many of these are at the far left, indicating support from only the Democrats in most cases. To the far right are bills that passed with primarily Republican support, as noted by their smaller size.

Our next view used node sizing to show only those representatives who cast 45 or fewer aye votes (of the more than 80 votes cast in this period). These voters are shown as oversized nodes relative to their colleagues. While missed votes may contribute to this classification, we also note the predominance of Democrats in this view. Given the Republican majority, it is hardly surprising that more Democrats would be likely to refrain from casting aye votes that are likely to reflect the Republican influence.


Next we take a look at those who cast at least 60 aye votes and are unsurprised to see that this one swings toward the Republican side of the graph. This view was achieved using some Gephi filters to hide individuals not meeting the selected criteria. Clearly, the most enthusiastic ‘aye’ voters in this period are primarily Republican.


Our final view for now (we could do dozens more) focuses on national security – generally considered to be a bi-partisan subject where both parties want to appear patriotic, regardless of whether the legislation actually advances security. To focus quickly on this topic, I have used Gephi to recolor all security-related nodes to yellow. Notice how these votes are almost uniformly bi-partisan, with overwhelming support from both parties.


These are just a few examples for how Gephi can help dissect a reasonably complex network and provide quick visual insights. There are of course many other methods available in Gephi that would take this analysis much deeper.

Now that we’ve done a brief examination of this data, time to move on to the interactive example on the web, where you can do your own clicking, searching, zooming, and panning to uncover patterns in the data. This functionality all comes courtesy of Sigma.js, an oustanding Gephi plugin. You can find the network here: http://visual-baseball.com/gephi/us_house/network/index.html#.

At some point, I may attempt to link back to the actual voting data at govtrack.us, but for now I hope you find this to be a useful (and fun) way to examine voting patterns. Enjoy!

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Midterm Elections Won’t Change Runaway Budget

Many voters and observers have been talking about the huge changes that could be brought about by the 2014 US midterm elections. While this may be true on a few high profile social issues, the election results will do nothing to stop the runaway freight train known as the federal government budget. Specifically, this refers to the many agencies that fall within the Executive branch of the government. Neither party has shown any inclination to slow this growth down, and that will likely remain unchanged regardless of who is in power.

To show how little impact the electorate has on this unelected portion of the government (often referred to as the ‘shadow government’), these giant bureaucracies continue to rapidly expand even as more and more Americans are struggling to survive. I have provided the gory details using Tableau Public, based on the federal government’s own staggering budget numbers from 1962 through 2015. Find the story here: Unchecked agency growth

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