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The Sunlight Foundation uses technology and ideas to make government transparent and accountable.
The Sunlight Foundation is:
A think-tank that develops and encourages new policies inside the government to make it more open and transparent.
A campaign to engage citizens in demanding the policies that will open government and hold their elected officials accountable for being transparent.
An investigative organization that uses the data we uncover to demonstrate why we need new policies that free government data.
A grant-giving institution that provides resources to organizations using technology to further our mission and create community
An open source technology community that revolves around the Sunlight Foundation’s core mission
The man who pled guilty on Monday to violating campaign finance laws in 2010 by funneling more than $600,000 to then Washington D.C. mayoral-candidate Vincent Gray has also had questionable financial dealings on the federal level with at least one very high-profile candidate.
Gray won the contest in 2010, and it's well known, at least on the local D.C.scene, that Jeffrey Thompson not only set up a shadow campaign and a network of straw donors to help Mayor Gray take office, but also set up shadow operations to help Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential bid.
According to court documents, Thompson spent nearly as much money helping Clinton's campaign as he did helping D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray. While he's now admitting to spending more than $600,000 to boost Clinton's campaign, he originally reported contributing only $5,900 to help her campaign, according to Federal Election Commission records.
However, based on that presidential race's outcome, it appears Thompson didn't wield the same influence on the federal level. Nonetheless, he has made a number of campaign contributions on the federal level that were in fact reported to the FEC to a number of political campaigns, including Clinton's.
All told, Thompson has reported giving more than $137,000 to federal candidates over the last three decades. Of the 61 campaigns and politicians he's given to, mostly were Democrats, although a few Republicans received contributions too. Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona received money from Thompson for his 2008 presidential bid, for instance. Thompson has also given to the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Part of Thompson's guilty plea included creating a network of straw donors made up at least partly of employees of his accounting firm to make contributions on his behalf. FEC records show contributions from employees of his accounting firm (including Thompson) dating back to the 2000 presidential election total $321,500. The amount of that money that was illegally funneled is unclear.
A consulting firm whose principals include Mary Cheney, daughter of Dick Cheney, appears responsible for the bulk of the near-record breaking number of comments received by the State Department in recent weeks in favor of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, according to analysis based on Sunlight's Docket Wrench tool.
Of the nearly 125,000 comments filed, at least 98,000 — about eight out of ten — contain similar pro-pipeline language: "The pipeline will provide much needed, good paying jobs for our economy while ensuring our country's energy and national security." These comments come from individuals listing "BKM Strategies," as the originating organization. BKM Strategies is housed at the same Fairfax office complex as Alliance for Freedom, a nonprofit "social welfare" organization on which Cheney serves as director along with Kara Ahern and Barry Bennett. Tax forms filed with the Internal Revenue Service and made available by CitizenAudit.org, a Sunlight grantee, report that the trio are also members of BKM Strategies, LLC. A call to the Alliance's offices was not returned.
The Alliance for Freedom is part of an interconnecting group of conservative nonprofits that have dived into politics in recent years; in 2010, the group reported giving $4 million to another 501(c)4 organization, Alliance for America's Future, whose directors include Ahern and Bennett. That same year, Cheney and Ahern also established a super PAC, Partnership for America's Future, which is not currently active.
To put the number of comments in perspective, the 125,000 comments logged by the State Department on the Keystone pipeline puts it within shouting distance of the 143,000 comments received by the IRS for its proposal to define dark money political groups. That, in turn, ranks second only to a proposed health insurance mandate on birth control among regulations drawing the most comments in recent years.
But the pro-Keystone pipeline comments are at the top of the list when it comes to choreographed writing campaigns, one of the devices used to influence regulators. The cluster of similarly worded comments organized via BKM Strategies is the largest Docket Wrench has ever identified.
In other news from Sunlight's influence trackers:
Legal to lobby: There are few committees more coveted than Ways and Means for lawmakers seeking to boost their campaign cash take--and for staffers who wish to burnish their resumes. Over the past week, three former staffers from the tax-writing panel became legal to lobby their former House colleagues, having completed the one year prohibition following their employment there. One, Dan Elling, is already a registered lobbyist for Alston & Bird, representing several hospitals and health trade associations. His official bio at the firm touts as a GOP staff director for the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee in his role as a senior policy advisor to the firm's Health Care Group. The two other former staffers, both Democrats, are working in government: Sonja Nesbit is lobbyist for the department of Health and Human Services, and Debra Curtis on policy for the D.C. Health Benefit Exchange. Of 17 former Ways and Means staffers subject to one-year prohibition identified by Sunlight, at least eight work for law or lobbying firms or corporations, but only four have officially registered to lobby. Credit: Post Employment Tracker.
Food safety: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has extended the comment period for the environmental impact statement for a proposed rule on produce safety, one of a suite of seven food safety regulations the feds have been slow to implement. Late last month the FDA signed a consent decree agreeing to finalize all the rules by mid-2016, more than five years after the passage of law meant to help prevent outbreaks like the listeria-infected Colorado cantaloupe that left 33 people dead. Credit: Scout.
Also seen: Paleo market? New Zealand Beef + Lamb updated its foreign agent registration filings (Foreign Lobbying Influence Tracker); It's that time of year: three dozen lobbying registrations for budget and appropriations filed in last 30 days (Lobbying Registration Tracker); seven state bills concerning assault weapons introduced so far this month in Rhode Island, Maryland, Illinois and California (Open States); A sure sign of an election: political ads flooding Tampa, Florida televisions--55 over past week--as voters went to polls to choose a successor to the late Rep. C.W. "Bill" Young in the state's 13th district (Political Ad Sleuth); veterenarians don't like it: proposed bill to open up pet prescriptions to competition is most viewed on Open Congress.
Over the past year at the Sunlight Foundation, we've worked hard to improve our data visualizations. We work with data a lot over here, so conveying insights in an accessible and accurate manner is important to us. Charts that are well designed and professional are taken more seriously because it conveys an attention to detail that implies that similar care was taken with the data. As we've created more visuals to compliment our data analysis, we've become better at it and more consistent. A significant step in this process was the recent creation of what we fondly refer to as: The Sunlight Foundation Data Visualization Style Guidelines
So why a guide at all?
In our guide I've included not just where to put the logo (top right across from the title), but how far apart things should be spaced, what kind of gridlines and tooltips to use, sizing, color, font and hierarchy guidance as well as a few bullet points on when each type of visualization is useful.
The guide covers the common applications and provides guidance on basic design and branding principles that all charts we make should meet. Now everything we make has a cohesive feel: it looks like it was made by us! The guideline has allowed others to create templates that applied our standards to meet their needs.
It also allows us to create visualizations more quickly. Instead of starting from scratch every time, there is a ready arsenal of colors and basic setup rules waiting to be applied. (Click the image below to see the full size color palette.) By having a starting point of restrictions, it gives our staff more freedom to create. They can produce something independently that meets our minimum design and branding standards.
Why not just create a template?
I created a guideline because it is not possible to pre-design every chart. Some insights and some data require special treatment. The guide is a starting point and includes standards for our basics chart types, but is also helpful when you have a non-standard data visualization, like a stadium map or a sinking percentage bar chart.
And from the guide, sprouted templates. For example, former Sunlighter Ben Chartoff created an R script that set the options of Hadley Whickam’s ggplot2 to closely mimic our style guidelines. This has drastically reduced the amount of work designers need to do to clean up R output for publication. Bob created a D3.js template. I created an Adobe Illustrator template for Rebecca to use. And I'm sure more templates will be created as we adopt new ways of visualizing data.
Is it working?
I'd say yes. By not forcing everyone to adopt the same technology, but allowing them to continue using what they are comfortable with, we've had more people accept this system. It's easier to create things, so we've been doing it more often. And our branding is stronger and more recognizable.
Today we are turning off our Dodd-Frank tracker. It will still be online but it will be frozen in time, no longer reflecting new meetings.
With the passage of the Dodd-Frank Act in 2010, the starting pistol was fired in the race to define the new rules that would regulate financial markets. The law left many of the most important details to be defined by the regulators. This added greater weight to the meetings the regulators would have with the various parties seeking to influence the way the sweeping financial reform law would be implemented. Acknowledging the importance these meetings would have, the five agencies involved each volunteered to disclose the meetings online. It was an important moment for online disclosure — one we wish more agencies would follow — but in practice it was difficult to make sense of the data.
Each of the five agencies decided its own policy on details it would disclose, the schedule it would follow in publishing them and the format it would use. This made it difficult to answer such simple questions as: How many meetings have Goldman Sachs executives had with agency staff? When did these meetings occur? What were they about?
In 2011 we created our Dodd-Frank tracker to give the public a tool to analyze the meeting records. The tracker unlocked the value of the data by aggregating it, standardizing it as well as making it searchable. The tool became fodder for numerous stories about how big financial interests were lobbying regulators. For example, on the three-year anniversary of Dodd-Frank’s passage:
- Nancy Watzman explained how the Dodd-Frank meeting data need improvement.
- Lee Drutman, Ben Chartoff, Amy Cesal and Alexander Furnas showed what the banks’ three-year war on Dodd-Frank looks like.
- The New York Times included our meeting data in deconstructing Dodd-Frank.
The regulators have missed more than a few deadlines to define and implement the rules stemming from Dodd-Frank. These delays have extended the process well past the original intended useful lifetime for our tracker. The ScraperWiki-based infrastructure it runs on is being decommissioned and, with the meetings now reduced to a trickle, we will be turning off the tracker rather than updating the tracker to run on new infrastructure. We would be remiss if we let this moment pass without reiterating the lessons to be learned from this process.
All regulators should follow the lead of the Treasury, Federal Reserve, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Securities and Exchange Commission and Commodity Futures Trading Commission in disclosing meetings online. They should go beyond replicating conventional meeting logs in an online format by publishing the meetings as open data. Most of the issues encountered by consumers of the Dodd-Frank meeting disclosures could have been avoided by following the Eight Principles of Open Government Data and our Open Data Policy Guidelines. However, before those guidelines can be applied, the agencies need to recognize that meetings should be published as machine readable data. Only then will humans be able to make the best use of them.
Even though the draft legislation they will be touting is being called "a nightmare" by environmentalists, representatives of chemical companies have good reasons to expect a friendly reception when they go before a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee this morning.
Some of the reasons are obvious from a perusal of public records; others, not so much.
That's because the muscle behind changing a nearly four-decade old law regulating toxic substances can't be measured solely by the multi-million-dollar lobbying budgets of corporations and trade associations that have been pushing for it. Nor can it be summed up in the thousands of dollars of campaign contributions funneled to members of the Energy and Commerce Committee by some of the very companies that will be presenting testimony today.
Sure, the powerful American Chemistry Council, a trade association that has taken the lead in lobbying for an overhaul of the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act, has donated $11,500 to Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., whose panel will help draft any revisions to the law. But those contributions pale in comparison to what the Chemistry Council has done for Upton in this election cycle completely under the public radar.
Late last summer -- a strategically important time in politics because it is the point in the election cycle when would-be challengers decide whether or not to take on incumbents -- the American Chemistry Council launched a highly flattering ad campaign touting Upton's leadership abilities. The ads appear to have aired in Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids, two markets that cover the veteran lawmaker's western Michigan district. An examination of ad buy records on Sunlight's Political Ad Sleuth show that the Chemistry Council spent more than $240,000 airing nearly 500 spots during three weeks in August.
Those spots are part of a much larger campaign of similar ads that the Council has been buying since the 2014 election cycle got underway last year. It's an effort that makes an important point about loopholes in campaign finance law that allow significant political favors to be done outside of the public eye.
Even though the ads for Upton, along with those for 17 other members of Congress, are described on the Chemistry Council's YouTube site as "Support for" the candidates, they have never been reported to the Federal Election Commission. The Chemistry Council's reported "independent expenditures" for the 2014 cycle so far: zero.
There's nothing illegal going on here: Campaign finance law says an ad that praises or criticizes a candidate by name isn't a "political" ad unless a) it airs within 30 days of a primary or 60 days of a general election or b) it "expressly advocates" for the candidate's election or defeat. The Chemistry Council's ads thread the needle by avoiding the use of the so-called magic words: vote for or vote against.
The only way we've been able to surface these expenditures is through two ad tracking tools that the Sunlight Foundation created last year out of frustration with growing amounts of political spending and influence that has been occurring outside the Federal Election Commission's purview.
- Ad Hawk is a mobile Sunlight app that allows users to identify groups behind political ads and to learn the names of their top donors. To create this tool, our developers scrape the online sites of candidates and politically active organizations to create a database of ads. While curating this database, we first began to notice the American Chemistry Council's ad campaign.
- Political Ad Sleuth creates an easy-to-search feed of all of the political ad buys that the Federal Communications Commission currently requires broadcasters to post online. At the moment, only stations affiliated with the top four networks (ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC) that are located in the nation's 50 largest TV markets have to post political ad buys online. That unfortunately leaves a lot of territory uncovered -- especially in a year when so many races that could determine control of Congress are occurring in states without top-50 markets, like Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Montana and West Virginia, to name a few.
Even so, it was Ad Sleuth that allowed us to estimate how much the Chemistry Council spent in Upton's district. It also allows us to see the tens of thousands of dollars the Chemistry Council spent late last year in New Mexico, where Sen. Tom Udall, a Democrat, is up for reelection this year. Udall, a member of the the Environmental and Public Works Committee, is an original cosponsor of the Chemical Safety Improvement Act, the Senate version of the Toxic Substances Control Act rewrite. The Chemical Council also supports that bill. Another sponsor of the bill, Sen. Kay Hagan, a North Carolina Democrat, benefited from scores of ads the Chemical Council bought in her state last summer.
Of the eight senators who have were subjects of laudatory Chemical Council ads, five are cosponsors of the Chemical Safety Improvement Act. Of the nine House members who starred in the commercials, four are members of the Energy and Commerce Committee, three are members of the Transportation Committee and one is House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
More conventional kinds of influence are also being wielded by proponents of the toxic substance law overhaul.
House Energy and Commerce Committee member John Barrow, a Georgia Democrat perennially targeted by Republicans, has received $21,499 from the Chemistry Council, almost half of that in the last election cycle.
The Dow Chemical Employees PAC sent $2,000 to Upton in 2013. The Intel Corporation cut two $2,500 checks to Reps. Steve Scalise, R-La., and Barrow. The Environmental Health Strategy Center — the sole environmentalist group present at Wednesday's hearing — has not shown the same level of generosity to the subcommittee members. Influence Explorer has no records of state or federal contributions from the green group from 1989-2013.
Although the draft bill under consideration by House members today has yet to be introduced, lobbyists representing chemical corporations that want to see the rollback of EPA regulations have been pushing a similar measure for months in the Senate. Lobbying disclosure forms collected by Open Secrets show that the Chemical Safety Improvement Act was mentioned on three different reports by Dow Chemical's in-house lobbyists in 2013. The company has spent over $10 million total on all lobbying that year. Likewise, the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates — an industry trade group — has been lobbying Congress on the issue since the first quarter of last year. The preliminary hearing for the House bill likely means the start of another groundswell of lobbying.
A complete list of lawmakers who benefited from American Chemistry Council ads is below. Click on their names to see the ads.
|Lawmaker||State||Party||Key Committees and leadership positions||Rothenberg rating||Date posted|
|Sen. Mary Landrieu||LA||D||Appropriations, Energy and Natural Resources, Homeland Security, Small Business||Pure Toss Up||1/16/13|
|Sen. Kay Hagan||NC||D||Armed Services, Banking, HELP, Small Business||Toss Up/Tilt D||8/5/13|
|Rep. Fred Upton||MI||R||Energy and Commerce (chair),||Safe R||8/5/13|
|Sen. Mitch McConnell||KY||R||Republican Leader||Lean R||8/5/13|
|Rep. Mike Simpson||ID||R||Appropriations||Safe R (but competitive primary)||8/5/13|
|Sen. Tom Udall||NM||D||Appropriations, Joint Committee on Printing, Environment and Public Works, Foreign Relations, Indian Affairs, Rules||Safe D||8/12/13|
|Rep. Steve Scalise||LA||R||Energy and Commerce||Safe R||8/13/13|
|Sen. John Thune||SD||R||Agriculture, Commerce, Finance||Not up till 2016||8/16/13|
|Sen. Chris Coons||DE||D||Appropriations, Foreign Relations, Budget, Judiciary||Safe D||8/19/13|
|Rep. Shelley Capito||WV||R||Financial Services, Transportation and Infrastructure,||Running for Senate: Lean Republican||11/6/13|
|Rep. Bill Shuster||PA||R||Armed Services, Transportation,||Safe R (but semi-competitive primary)||11/12/13|
|Rep. John Barrow||GA||D||Energy and Commerce||Lean Democrat||11/26/13|
|Rep. Eric Cantor||VA||R||Majority Leader||Safe R||12/5/13|
|Rep. Lee Terry||NE||R||Energy and Commerce||Republican favored||1/27/14|
|Sen. Mark Begich||AK||D||Appropriations, Commerce, Homeland Security, Indian Affairs, Veterans||Toss Up/Tilt D||1/31/14|
|Sen Mike Crapo||ID||R||Banking, Environment and Public Works, Finance, Indian Affairs, Budget||Not up till 2016||2/27/14|
|Rep. Rodney Davis||IL||R||Agriculture, Transportation,||Toss Up/Tilt R||2/5/14|
- Legally, candidates are not allowed to directly coordinate with the super PACs supporting them. Practically, there are plenty of ways for candidates to let super PACs know what message they're looking to push or. (Washington Post)
- Vice Adm. Mike Rogers, President Obama's pick to head up the CIA, pledged to try and make the agency's surveillance efforts more transparent at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee this week. (The Hill)
- Meanwhile, the battle between the CIA and members of the Senate Intelligence Committee reached a peak on Tuesday when committee chair Dianne Feinstein accused the spy agency of snooping on staffers computers. The agency denied these allegations. (Roll Call, Government Executive)
- A Mexican website created to document human rights violations and police abuses was shut down last year. Now, activists from the organization, #1DMX, are denouncing the government for its role in censoring the site. (Global Voices)
State and Local News
- The Virginia legislature took a small step towards reigning in the state's weak rules regulating gifts to public officials. Unfortunately, the legislation appears to represent a minimal response to the scandal that scarred the end of former Governor Bob McDonnell's term and it is unclear if current Governor Terry McAuliffe will even sign it. (Public Integrity)
Events Today 3/12
- Management Matters: Creating a 21st Century Government. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. Wed. 3/12. 10:00 am. SD-342, Dirksen Senate Office Building.
- Markup of H.R. 1078, to make participation in the American Community Survey voluntary, and other legislation. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Wed. 3/12. 10:00 am - 1:00 pm.
Events Tomorrow 3/13
- Anti-corruption and Environmental Protection: Where things stand in Mongolia today. SAIS. Thurs. 3/13. 5:30 - 7:00 pm. Johns Hopkins SAIS, Rome Building, Room 812, 1619 Massachusetts Ave, NW, Washington, DC.
The Sunlight Foundation's Reporting Group spends our days poring over campaign finance numbers. In this election year, we've decided to provide regular posts highlighting some of the most interesting data points. On Monday, we wrote about today's special House election in Florida. Here's what else we've spotted elsewhere around the country.
Senate: Mitch McConnell v. Allison Lundergan Grimes
Senate primary: Mitch McConnell versus Matt Bevin
- Real-Time FEC shows just over $3.3 million has been spent on independent expenditures in the state, compared to $7.4 million by candidates.
- The most recent campaign filings, from the end of last year, show McConnell with more than $10.8 million in cash on hand to Lundergan Grimes' $3.3 million. Matt Bevin, who is challenging McConnell from the right in the May 20 GOP primary, has raised $520,000. But he's received more than double that in help from outside groups.
- A glance at Sunlight's Political Party Time shows McConnell's fundraising has benefited his political connections inside the beltway. In January, powerhouse lobbying firm Podesta Group hosted a fundraiser for the incumbent, while another group of Washington lobbyists fêted the minority leader later that day. Lundergan Grimes has crisscrossed the country on fundraising trips, including an L.A. bash at featuring DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, a member of Sunlight's Stealthy Wealthy Hall of Fame.
- Kentuckians for Strong Leadership (the pro-McConnell super PAC founded by American Crossroads operatives) has spent almost $1.2 million, more than any other outside group. The cash has gone towards radio and TV attack ads tying Democrat Allison Lundergan Grimes to Obama and the "War on Coal."
- Former South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint's Senate Conservative's Fund (and its associated PAC Senate Conservatives Action) FreedomWorks and the Madison Project have coalesced around Tea Party challenger Bevin. So far they've combined to spend more than $1.6 million on online, radio and TV advertisements attacking McConnell's record on Obamacare and the Senate leader's "intimidation" of Tea Party Republicans.
- Of the $994,443 in independent expenditures that the Senate Conservatives Fund has spent this year, $375,817 — or 38 percent — went to Kentucky for TV attack ads, mailers and a website that collects donations supporting Bevin. FreedomWorks — perhaps the nation's most powerful Tea Party affiliate -- is also spending big on the race: In the past week alone, the group purchased $30,000 worth of web ads against McConnell.
Politicians fight, media consultants win
- The Kentucky race has brought Christmas in March for TV stations and buyers. Political ad files collected by Sunlight's Political Ad Sleuth show that tens of thousands of dollars in air time have been purchased in Louisville. Media buyers Target Enterprises of Sherman Oaks, Calif., Mentzer Media Services of Maryland and Strategic Media Services from the nation's capital are some of the most common names on Louisville ad contracts. Actually it has been Christmas for more than 12 months there, as Ad Sleuth showed buys starting in Louisville as early as February 2013.
- Pro-McConnell groups have been no slouches in the Bluegrass ad wars: The incumbent's principal campaign committee bought more than 100 ad spots from January to February.
- Contract files picked up by Ad Sleuth only capture a part of the story, however. Only stations in the country's 50 largest markets that are affiliated with the four major broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC) are required to electronically post political ad files. For other stations and in smaller markets, ad files can be obtained only by visiting TV stations in person. However the contracts available show that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a campaign finance behemoth is blanketing local airwaves with pro-McConnell ads like this one.
Senate primary: Thad Cochran vs. Chris McDaniel
- In a storyline that parallels Kentucky's, Chris McDaniel is hoping he can stir up enough support among the state's Republican grassroots to boot the 35-year veteran Sen. Thad Cochran from Congress. The hard right Club for Growth, FreedomWorks, Madison Project and Senate Conservatives Fund are helping. To counter the Republican incumbent's fundraising edge — $1.1 million in cash on hand compared to McDaniel's $390,000 at the end of last year — these groups have spent more than $1 million in Mississippi.
- In the past week alone, Club for Growth spent nearly a quarter of a million dollars producing and purchasing time for a new TV ad. From its website: "Cochran voted to bail out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, voted repeatedly to raise the debt limit by trillions of dollars, and even voted against a resolution that stated Congress has a “moral obligation" to cut spending."
- Mississippi Conservatives is the GOP establishment's answer to the assault on Cochran. The New York Times reports Henry Barbour, a Mississippi lobbyist and nephew to former Gov. Haley Barbour, R, is advising the super PAC. Mississippi Conservatives has already fired off $380,000 worth of radio and TV ads painting McDaniel as a flip flopper. See all of the race's independent expenditures on Real-Time FEC.
- Washington is behind Cochran: Party Time records reveal the Podesta Group and the likewise-embattled Sen. McConnell have hosted fundraisers for Cochran in the past few months.
Senate: Shelley Moore Capito versus Natalie Tennant
House: Nick Rahall versus Evan Jenkins
- Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., entered 2014 with a cash on hand advantage of more than 6:1 over her Democratic opponent, West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant. The Senate seat will be open for the first time since 1985, when retiring Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., was first elected. The Appalachian Senate battle offers the Republicans one of the best opportunities to pick up a seat in a state that Mitt Romney carried by 27 points. A recent poll from Rasmussen Reports shows Capito with a 14 point lead over her Democratic opponent.
- Tea Party favorite Pat McGeehan has failed to gather much steam in the Mountain State. The "Constitutional Conservative" state representative supports shutting down the EPA according to his campaign site had raised a total of $31,537 at the start of 2014.
- Only one outside political group has registered independent expenditures in the race with the Federal Election Commission: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, spending $200,000 on online and TV ads supporting Capito.
WV-03: Democratic super PAC fires back at the Koch brothers
- Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va, a 30-year veteran of the House, faces one of his toughest elections yet in the heart of coal country. Rahall's campaign is significantly outpacing his Republican challenger — state Sen. Evan Jenkins — in fundraising. But Jenkins is backed by the American Energy Alliance, a dark money group partly backed by the Koch brothers running ads decrying Rahall's vote for a budget that would include a carbon tax that would hurt the coal industry. In response, House Majority PAC (a Democratic super PAC) unleashed a $150,000 ad buy, including the recent "Stick with Nick" ad spot. From the ad: "New York billionaires paid for those ads attacking him [Rahall] and they're not true."
- A recent Republican poll shows Jenkins with a double-digit lead over the incumbent, the Washington Post reports.
An aside of note: We just picked up through the transom (a.k.a. Real-Time FEC) that the United Steelworkers' newly formed super PAC, USW Works, gave $300,000 to the Maine Democratic Party on Feb. 22. The massive contribution is perfectly in Maine — where there are no limits on contributions to state PACs and political parties. The six figure check will come in handy as state Democrats gear up for a competitive gubernatorial election in 2014, where openly-gay Rep. Mike Michaud, D, faces conservative bomb-thrower Gov. Paul LePage, R on Nov. 4.
CSV and JSON are two of the most common kinds of files for open data you'll find on the web today. CSVs are just spreadsheets and are a common way to let people download data in bulk. Tables of data are simple, and a great many people are used to working with them in Excel or Google Docs.
JSON has become the format of choice for APIs on the web today, but JSON data is trickier to work with for many people. Partly, this is because tables are just simpler for people to understand, and JSON data is rarely organized like a table. But maybe more importantly, there are great visual tools for working with CSVs, and few such tools for JSON.
In other words, if you send someone a link to a CSV, their browser downloads a file for them and they open it in Excel. If you send someone a link to JSON, their browser displays them a bunch of gobbledygook.
No good: This gives JSON a bad name.
Making JSON more approachable
A few weeks ago, I gave a workshop at Open Data Day here in D.C. the goal of which was to demystify JSON and make it feel as approachable as a spreadsheet.
I searched, but couldn't find any good tools to do this that worked inside the browser. The only solution was to make a new one!
So now, if you go to konklone.io/json, you'll see a box to paste JSON into:
It'll then quickly reformat and re-color your JSON...
...and transform it into a table of data below, showing you the first few rows.
You can then click a link above the excerpt to download the full table as a CSV. At any time, you can click "Create a permalink" to save the data and change the URL to a unique link. Anyone visiting this permalink will see that same highlighted JSON and table.
And that's all you need to know to use it. If you're interested in the technical underpinnings, read on.
How it works
The whole thing is mostly just other people's work glued together.
When you paste in JSON, the converter parses it and then guesses at what the "rows" are by rifling through the JSON for an array. Each row is recursively flattened using an adapted algorithm from csvkit, a terrific command line tool by Chris Grozkopf et al for messing with CSV (and the inspiration for this project).
Flattened rows are fed into jquery-csv, at Ben Balter's suggestion, and that produces the raw CSV string. The converter then makes a
data: URI out of the CSV, and updates the download link. The download link takes advantage of a relatively recent feature in HTML5, the
download attribute for
<a> tags, to tell the browser to download the linked content rather than display it.
All of this makes it possible to run the whole converter without a server, inside the browser, as a static site.
Github as infrastructure
Github's public services make this easy.
The website is hosted for free, via Github Pages. To make permalinks work, the converter stores raw JSON in an anonymous Gist using the Github API. (There's a rate limit of 60 anonymous API requests per-hour per-visitor, but in practice that's been fine.)
It's not perfect — it can't handle every possible JSON structure you can throw at it, it could be better at telling you about errors and there are surely other bugs. Please describe any issues or suggestions on the issue tracker, which is once again over on Github.
It's not so bad
If you want to get more comfortable with JSON and APIs, do as the developers do and make it easier on your eyes by installing a browser extension:
They both do a terrific job of automatically reformatting and highlighting JSON so you can understand what's going on, and both of them let you easily copy/paste JSON. Give it a shot on the JSON pictured at the top of this page, at the Sunlight Foundation's description on Facebook's Graph API (graph.facebook.com/sunlight-foundation).
Either way, the big thing I tried to communicate at Open Data Day this year is that using JSON (and URLs, APIs and most things on the web!) doesn't require a computer science degree. It's all just patterns, meant for both humans and computers to understand.
So the next time someone tells you about an API that uses JSON, go ahead and open it in your browser and look it over. Maybe read through the API's documentation and try to figure out how to get the JSON you want. You've always got a CSV converter around if you want to download it as a spreadsheet. You've got nothing to lose.