Citizens United has changed the rules of politics, and will allow a few to have an undue influence on the many during this election cycle. The amount of money infused into the 2012 election cycle is staggering. Yet, this is not the first time that money has had an influence in politics.
KNALIJ (sounds like 'knowledge') for U.S. Politics 2012 is a new application that uses data prepared by the Center for Responsive Politics to create a searchable interface that visually connects candidates to the money infused into the system. By applying data since the 2010 mid-term elections, we can see the dichotomy between how money and politics was pursued prior to Citizens United, and the effects of unlimited contributions subsequent to the ruling.
KNALIJ for U.S. Politics introduces to the voting public a powerful web application for the visualization of the relationships and connections between money and candidates within the U.S. political process. The application maps out approximately 100,000 connections between candidates, PACs, SuperPACs, Contributors and Committees.
The Application builds on Rootstrikers' previous info graphic, 'The True Identity Behind SuperPACs', by visually connecting the top contributors to SuperPACs, and then allowing for deeper investigation. It is immediately evident that Restore our Future and American Crossroads are two of the largest SuperPACs, and that Harold Simmons connects to both, for example. Click around the Map or the lists in the right grid to find what you are searching for.
Another fascinating element of the Application is that one can see the interaction of PACs and Candidates since the 2010 elections, and before the Citizens United ruling gave life to the SuperPACs. Observe how corporate PACs often stay bipartisan by funding those candidates who have Committee positions that are pertinent to their corporate interests.
Examining the Map in a Macro view (the bottom button on the Map's toolbar), the red and blue breaks down as expected. Right wing candidates are often more closely associated with socially conservative PACs, whereas Union, Teacher and Nursing PACs tend to reside closely to Democratic candidates. It's the specific connections and patterns that become intriguing and enlightening.
We welcome any input and ideas that our Rootstrikers network may have about using the application or spreading it around the internet in the weeks leading up to the election. Please post your thoughts in the comments below.
Editor's Note: last week we unveiled Politicash, a mobile app that explores the same open data as KNALIJ. We're still looking for a couple of winners of our campaign contributions quiz if you have a few minutes to wade through the numbers.
If donations were the only information we had to go on, they would certainly be much more important. And when we have many years’ worth of voting records on the issues, it seems more appropriate to judge candidates’ positions on social issues by looking at their record and campaign platforms than by looking at their donors. Of course, platforms do change (for some more than others), and it is a good idea to keep an eye on where the money is coming from; let’s just not get carried away with the importance of donors.
For example, this post points out that establishment Republicans often receive money from groups against abortion and gay marriage, while establishment Democrats often receive money from teachers and nurses. A more detailed understanding of these groups’ agendas is necessary in order to conclude anything more meaningful than, “I am pro-choice, pro-marriage equality, pro-education, and pro-healthcare; therefore the donations tell me I should vote for establishment Democrats.” A more detailed analysis, including the actual impact on education and healthcare of lobbying by teachers and nurses unions, would be far more appropriate. Teachers unions, for example, are frequently the biggest obstacle to providing a higher quality of education for children, and electing leaders who have an incentive to cater to such groups is often not in the interest of the values of those voting for them.
Strike the root of the real problem and stop promoting the notion that the donations themselves are what matter. Principled voting records are far more important. And if neither party’s establishment is offering up a candidate with such a record (as is often the case), vote for someone else.
The idea that I should give more importance to a candidate’s donors than I should to the fact he is spending billions every day killing innocent people around the world, stripping US citizens of what little civil rights we have left, and concentrating the wealth in our country to a financial class that contributes nothing to society is preposterous and insulting.