Since the Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet’s John Neurohr is able to read our minds I figure that I ought to give a demonstration of what we have been doing with the daily schedules that some members of Congress are posting. Currently most members of Congress, the press, and partisan outfits see the daily schedules as a target for cherry-picking “gotchas” like the recent fuss about Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand’s schedule showing a fundraiser for the congresswoman in Europe. Look at the schedule as a whole and not a series of single events and you get a different picture. Instead of one event that may be unseemly you will be able to tell a story that explains whether or not, in the meetings that the congressperson is holding, the member is fulfilling their representational duty to work with individuals and groups in the district. That’s why we decided to see what a Google map of the schedule might look like.
As I said before, this is a demonstration and we are currently working on ways to show this data in more compelling ways. To begin with we’ve taken Gillibrand’s schedule and mapped the first two months of her meetings. We excluded from the map all congressional votes, committee meetings, fundraisers, and meetings with unidentifiable persons. This was done to focus on the people that Gillibrand meets with to do her job (i.e.: represent the people who elected her). The addresses represent where the individual or group is located and not where the meeting was held, except in some instances of district work. In a few instances I have not been able to find an exact address and thus have used a less-than specific address (i.e.: Dutchess County, NY) that is not entirely accurate but represents the town or county where the individual or group is located. Some meetings include individuals representing more than one group. For these meetings I have labeled them as “Joint Meetings”.
So, what do the first two months of Gillibrand’s schedule show? The majority of her meetings occur with groups based in New York State and, more specifically, in her district. The only area with any significant amount of groups that met with the congresswoman is Washington, DC. This makes sense as numerous groups that represent issues affecting her district are headquartered in Washington.
Check out the two months of Gillbrand's schedule that we've mapped and let us know in the comments what kind of information you see. What kind of organizations did Gillibrand meet with in these two months? What appears to be her focus for her district? When I reviewed these meetings it appears that the majority of her meetings are held with business and labor leaders in New York State. This appears to accurately reflect her ideological positioning as a Blue Dog Democrat. What do you see?
Our excellent Labs staff is currently developing a way to make this information more open and more compelling. This will change the way that the daily schedule is perceived by members of Congress and their constituents. Hopefully, you will find cool and innovative new ways to present this data once we get it out there. Watch over the summer as we begin to get this information into a better format.
The ability to show this information in a variety of ways is really exciting in that you the constituent or you the online political junkie can create your own narrative of a congressperson's meetings. Of course, if the congressperson is meeting with certain individuals and groups over others than they will set the general narrative as Gillibrand does by predominantly meeting with groups from her state and her district and that fit into the ideological position that she has crafted for herself. Ultimately, this will take the air out of "gotcha" moments, like the aforementioned European fundraiser, due to the more compelling stories that constituents can tell themselves. The more information that members release about their activities the less they will have to hear, from the media and from constituents, complaints that they have lost touch with the district. How can someone say that you've "gone Washington" when you have a map to prove that you're still true to your district.
A final note: Due to this infiltration by the Institue for Politics, Democracy and the Internet we will be encasing our offices in tinfoil.