Graphics by Ben Chartoff and Amy Cesal. Network analysis by Alexander Furnas. In the three years since President Barack Obama signed the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, federal regulators charged with implementing it have opened their doors to the biggest banks over and over again – 14 times as frequently as they have to representatives of consumer and pro-financial reform groups, a new Sunlight Foundation analysis finds. By most accounts, the banks’ besiege-the-regulators strategy has yielded rich rewards in sapping, slowing, and stymieing regulations intended to prevent another massive financial crisis. The emerging consensus is that Dodd-Frank implementation is limping, while the big banks are poised to return to being the most profitable industry in the U.S. Sunlight’s analysis is based on logs of Dodd-Frank meetings at the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, the Treasury, and the Federal Reserve Board., available through Sunlight’s Dodd-Frank Meetings Tracker. Because of problems with data quality and comprehensiveness, we had to exclude two other regulatory agencies (the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Deposit Insurance Commission). And because of the time involved in data cleaning, we also excluded 22 percent of reported meetings – those that did not include “active” players. (By “active” we mean organizations that showed up at least five times in meeting logs.) For more on the data, see our methodology section at the end of this post, and read our companion piece, “Dodd-Frank meeting data need improvement.” Still, the imbalances our analysis reveals are so overwhelming that we can be confident that they are not merely a feature of the reporting practices.Continue reading
Back in the days after the 2012 election, when it became clear that despite losing the popular House vote, Republicans had actually won a sizeable majority in the House, plenty of speculation set in as to why: Was it gerrymandering? Was it geography? Or just luck? Thanks to data from the latest edition of Vital Statistics on Congress (a joint product of the Brookings Institution and the American Enterprise Institute that has just been posted online), we can put 2012 in better historical context. Last year marked the first time since at least 1946 (the first year for which Vital Statistics has data) that one party (the Democrats) won the pluralirty of the popular vote in U.S. House but ended up with less than the majority of seats. While such a reversal of electoral fortune is unusual, a significant disparity between a party’s seat share and vote share is not. Historically, Democrats have benefited from distortions of apportionment much more than Republicans, especially during the 1960s and 1970s.Continue reading
In the 2012 election 28 percent of all disclosed political contributions came from just 31,385 people. In a nation of 313.85 million, these donors represent the 1% of the 1%, an elite class that increasingly serves as the gatekeepers of public office in the United States.
More than a quarter of the nearly $6 billion in contributions from identifiable sources in the last campaign cycle came from just 31,385 individuals, a number equal to one ten-thousandth of the U.S. population. In the first presidential election cycle since the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. FEC, candidates got more money from a smaller percentage of the population than any year for which we have data, a new analysis of 2012 campaign finance giving by the Sunlight Foundation shows. These donors contributed 28.1 percent of all individual contributions in the 2012 cycle, a record high. One sign of the reach of this elite “1% of the 1%”: Not a single member of the House or Senate elected last year won without financial assistance from this group. Money from the nation’s 31,385 biggest givers found its way into the coffers of every successful congressional candidate. And 84 percent of those elected in 2012 took more money from these 1% of the 1% donors than they did from all of their small donors (individuals who gave $200 or less) combined. This elite 1% of the 1% dominated campaign giving even in a year when President Barack Obama reached new small donor frontiers (small donors are defined as individuals giving in increments of less than $200). In 2014, without a presidential race to attract small donors, all indicators are that the 1% of the 1% will occupy an even more central role in the money chase. The nation’s biggest campaign donors have little in common with average Americans. They hail predominantly from big cities, such as New York and Washington. They work for blue-chip corporations, such as Goldman Sachs and Microsoft. One in five works in the finance, insurance and real estate sector. One in 10 works in law or lobbying. The median contribution from this group of elite donors? $26,584. That’s a little more than half the median family income in the United States. Watch a video summary of The Political 1% of the 1% Continue reading
The real immigration fight is now about to begin. As the Senate Judiciary Committee begins working on the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013, we still think the best field guide to the fight about to erupt over the 844-page bill remains our March 25 analysis, entitled “Untangling the webs of immigration lobbying" Here is the network analysis we produced back then (click for the interactive version): Figure 1. Immigration Lobbying in Congress Click here for our interactive network guide to the most active interests, what issues they care about, and how intensely they are lobbyingContinue reading
As Congress inches toward major immigration legislation, a new Sunlight Foundation analysis (based on almost 8,000 lobbying reports) offers a comprehensive and interactive guide to the web of interests with something at stake. As legislation continues to take shape, a wide range of sectors will continue flooding Congress with their lobbyists, trying to make sure that their particular concerns are fully addressed. The visualizations we present can help to better understand who these interests are, what they care about, and how intensely they are likely to lobby to get what they want.Continue reading
The way we visualize and compare cities says much about our understanding of how they work. As part of our ongoing exploration of what makes a city, we wanted to survey how people are using data to describe the political, geographical and social realities cities face. Below, we've compiled some unique visualizations. Some of these center around cities in the common sense of the word, focusing on large urban areas, but we think these images as a group help expand the understanding of the diversity of all kinds of municipalities. We aren't demographers, but we aren't working in a vacuum, either. As we continue to engage in open data work, we hope to contribute to the kind of information that powers these visuals and help create the resources for the next wave of municipal understanding.
POPULATION DENSITY1. This 2010 U.S. Census map, from a report about population change, shows population-weighted density by metropolitan statistical area. That's a complicated way of essentially saying the map shows how tightly packed people are on average in metropolitan areas, as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau. The map shows how people generally are more condensed in metropolitan areas along the East and West coasts than they are in metropolitan areas in the middle of the country. Continue reading
If you haven't yet checked out The Data Viz Challenge, you should. A data visualization contest? Sponsored by Google and Eyebeam? Focusing on the federal budget?! There is basically nothing in the world more up our alley. Yes. A thousand times yes.
And yet I do feel obliged to offer one small criticism: I think the contest would be a little more exciting if entries weren't limited to using data from What We Pay For. Mind you, this is not because of anything wrong with WWPF. That site has done a very nice job of parsing budget data and, through the Challenge's website, exposing it via an API.
The problem is that the budget is only part of the story. As Kaitlin has already explained, tax expenditures--more commonly known as tax breaks--are vital to understanding our nation's finances. When the government declines to collect tax revenue from some particular individual or industry, it's not very different from simply sending them a check. The beneficiary has more money and, all else being equal, the rest of us have to pay more taxes (or take on more debt) to make up for it.
Unfortunately, this is the point at which politics enters the equation. The two major parties tend to pursue their spending priorities in different ways, and this has created political incentives for pretending that tax expenditures don't affect the budget. But this is silly--it's like pretending that if you worked two jobs and neglected to deposit your paycheck from one of them it would have no effect on your finances.
You can find people from both sides of the aisle saying unsupportable things about tax expenditures, but the truth is that every serious scholar who works on this issue regards tax expenditures as a type of spending. That's why the literature uses the word "expenditure."
I don't know if WWPF declined to wade into this space because it's politically charged or because the data's historically been so tough to access, but I wish they had decided differently. If you don't include tax expenditures, you wind up ignoring huge government subsidies to business (accelerated depreciation), housing (mortgage interest tax deduction) and every kind of nonprofit, from museums to soup kitchens to the NCAA (tax exemption). This isn't to say that we shouldn't subsidize those entities and uses. Maybe we should! But we should at least talk about it. We need to make sure these expenditures are considered if we're going to get a clear understanding of our nation's finances. Make no mistake, we're talking about a lot of money -- have a look at the chart from Kaitlin's post and you'll see what I mean.
At any rate, I'm sure that we'll see some stunning visualizations come out of this contest, and I don't hesitate to encourage anyone reading this to participate. But now that Sunlight and the Pew Charitable Trusts have worked together to expose data on tax expenditures--and we'll be adding more such data soon--I hope the visualization community will be inspired to tell that part of the tale as well. Without it, any story about our government's spending is incomplete.Continue reading
This is a really clever infographic by Adam Bonica showing the ideological placement of occupations through an examination of their... View ArticleContinue reading
Wonder just how Wall Street has become so influential on Capitol Hill that it can command the attention of the... View ArticleContinue reading