Theory to Practice: The Democracy Facts Label Goes Live

Yesterday, Rick linked to a press release from the San Francisco Ethics Commission, announcing the launch of a great new campaign finance dashboard.  The site has a few different tools to get campaign finance information, and more important, to visualize it in different ways so that the morass of data is more meaningful.  There are maps for contributions by location, and charts for sorting big PACs from small ones; there are graphs for lobbyist contributions and infographics of major donors.

But the piece I’m most proud of is the interface for quickly communicating information about the funding profile and major funders of ballot measures.  It’s modeled after my proposal for a “Democracy Facts” label, described in this paper and highlighted in this blog post almost exactly 4 years ago.  The idea is to borrow the familiar design of the Nutrition Facts labels, focusing on the few most important campaign funding facts real people actually might want to know, in readily digestible and comparable fashion. 

The individual pieces of information on the label can be tailored to local needs and desires; there are lots of potential variations.  The San Francisco Ethics Commission chose the info that suited them best.  

And the technical wizards on the implementation team improved on the idea in many different ways.  Among the upgrades: given the web interface, each individual major donor is clickable, and linked to a Google search providing a bit more context about the person or entity involved.  Community feedback, I understand, has thus far been profoundly positive.

Last year, Heather Gerken had the opportunity to see her Democracy Index come to life, when Pew released its Elections Performance Index.  She wrote about the experience of watching the real-life realization of her powerful policy proposal to render information about the electoral environment more accessible and relevant, and thereby more meaningful.

She was right.  It feels great.

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