Challenge: MAPLight.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that has assembled a vast public database to illuminate the connection between campaign donations and legislative votes. As part of their ground-breaking ‘Remote Control’ report, MAPLight.org used Federal Elections Commission (FEC) data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics to examine all campaign contributions given to members of the U.S. House of Representatives from Jan. 2005 through Dec. 2007. Their goal was to determine what proportion of campaign contributions originated outside each member’s district and to convey these findings to the public in a compelling manner. MAPLight.org was faced with two obstacles: translating the FEC data into a form suitable for geographic analysis and, once the analysis was complete, quickly generating a series of more than 400 maps to visualize the information about each legislator.
Solution: Azavea contributed to the analytical phase of the project by geocoding the street address of each contributor, assigning it specific geographic coordinates which were then used to determine the House district in which the contribution originated - a process supported by data from Cicero, Azavea's legislative district boundary and elected official API. MAPLight.org then examined contributions to the 421 House members from the 50 states who were serving as of Oct. 15, 2008 to determine what proportion of their campaign funding was originating out-of-district. To present the results to the public, MAPLight.org and Azavea collaborated to develop a series of maps to represent the data visually. Utilizing a combination of ESRI’s ModelBuilder technology and custom software, Azavea created a set of tools to quickly generate over 400 maps that illustrate the study. Each map includes a table that summarizes the total contributions from out-of-district, from in-district, and from undetermined locations. The resulting Money Maps are included in the full-length report and on the MAPLight.org website, which is searchable by state, political party, and legislator name.
Outcomes: Using geographic analysis, Azavea was able to translate information that was once a jumble of numbers in FEC databases, incomprehensible to the average citizen, into a series of simple and powerful maps that have drawn public attention to the problem of out-of district contributions. By leveraging ModelBuilder and the scripting capabilities within ESRI's ArcGIS software, Azavea was able to automate the generation of over 400 maps-- a process that, if performed manually, would likely have taken several weeks. The findings of the MAPLight.org report were dramatic: 79% of campaign contributions to members of the U.S. House of Representatives originate outside their districts and 91 members raised 90% or more from out-of-district. Illustrated by Money Maps Azavea created, the findings of the 'Remote Control' report have subsequently been reported in major national television, print and radio outlets.
Publication: MAPLight "Remote Control" Report