So what exactly does it do? Poligraft comes as a standalone Web site or as a bookmarklet. I’m going to do this writeup using the standalone Web site as it’s easier to show. When you visit a Web page or a news story that contains political content, you can run it through Poligraft. Poligraft will give you the story along with context in a sidebar — which lawmakers have been receiving political donations from whom, where aggregated donations from companies go, etc.
For example, take this article from The New York Times: “Education Department Deals Out Big Awards”. I can take that URL and copy and paste it at Poligraft. (I can also paste the contents of an article if I don’t have access to the URL.)
Poligraft reprints the article, but with an information bar on the left. In this case the information bar is showing where political donations from one individual went, and where aggregated donations from several institutions went — to Democrats or Republicans. The information presented in the bar is just a pie chart, which is a little misleading — you’ll note that all of Cornelia Grumman’s donations were all to Democrats — well, her one $250 donation. Meanwhile Johns Hopkins University has well over a million dollars in aggregate donations listed for the last 21 years, but has the same kind of little pie chart.
Each chunk of data on the information bar has a page with more details. The Ohio State University page shows top politicians donated to, as well as money spent on lobbying and issued lobbied about. Many of the individual names in the report pages are clickable, leading you if you wish down a political wonk rabbit hole.
I myself am enough of a wonk to appreciate this as a tool, but not enough of a wonk to really know how to use it (I had to go through several political stories before I found one that provided a lot of information.) I think as we get closer to the midterm elections it’ll be more useful as there will be more topical stories and more quotes from all sorts of organizations. Sunlight Labs is promising to add more data sets over time, too — look forward to seeing that.