New Tools to Explore Campaign Finance Data
In an election year, the more citizens know about candidates and their campaigns the better. And while there’s a lot of information available from the Campaign Spending Commission, it can be a challenge to make sense of it all. That’s where the recent Civic*Celerator comes in, and its slate of online tools to help voters understand who is funding political campaigns, and where the money is going.
Last night at The Box Jelly, an advocates’ workshop drew community leaders, activists, and even a political candidate or two. The event was organized by Common Cause Hawaii, in partnership with Hawaii Open Data (an organization I co-founded in 2012), and allowed the developers of several Civic*Celerator apps to present their work and answer questions.
Mapping guru Royce Jones showed off several tools he built using Esri GIS software, including a map to explore local voting precincts and another to look up candidate filing information based on location. He even previewed his “Power Ballot” concept, which would show an interactive version of each precinct’s actual ballot, and provide extensive links to information about each candidate.
Local software developer Jason Axelson, meanwhile, focused on data visualization, building a Hawaii Campaign Spending site that turned a dense pile of columns and rows into beautiful, interactive graphics that told the story of campaign expenditures by office, category (“food and beverage” being a fun one to explore), candidate, party (democrats obviously outspend all other parties by far), and amount.
Data visualization is also the specialty of Ben Trevino of UHERO, and his Funding a Campaign for the Hawaii State Legislature app also provided an elegant way to explore political fundraising activity in Hawaii.
Also featured last night was KOHO IKE, which offers new ways to search the Campaign Spending Commission’s contributions database. You can find who donated the most to state candidates (per campaign or number of candidates), identify which special interests support which candidates, and where a candidate gets most of his or her campaign cash. And Polidex sought to explore which contributions influence bills being signed into law, providing a graphical interface to illustrate when local legislators are collecting the most money.
While developer presentations are understandably geeky, it was clear to most of the people in the room that these apps had very practical applications, and provided new ways to look at often impenetrable campaign finance data. It was heartening to see local software developers working on ways to serve the public good, putting their considerable talents to helping all Hawaii residents become better informed, better equipped citizens.
And now that they’ve built these tools, hopefully we can get people to use them. While the public can learn more about the people who seek to represent them, they can also hopefully provide “real world” feedback to the developers to make their apps even better.
You can check out links to these and other Civic*Celerator apps here.