Who are the city business interests, part II

As election 2006 nears, the talk about money and politics is heating up. In today’s chronicle, Patrick Hoge exposes the money trail behind Prop 90 and the kingpen, libertarian Howie Rich.

Hoge’s article is interesting and one appreciates the hours of research work that went into it. At whosfundingwhom.org, we’re tying to reduce the research work for such reports by providing graphs and other associative views for money trails in SF politics. Check out this automatically generated graph, showing the Golden Gate Restraunt Association at the center:


With a quick glance, one can see some of the key relationships that form the “business interests” in San Francisco. Big players include the so-called Committee on Jobs, the Save Laguna Hospital Committee, and assembly candidate Fiona Ma.


Who are the city “business/real-estate interests” part I

When the press speaks of San Francisco real estate interests, who do they mean? Well, one organization is BOMA– The Building Owners and Managers Association. They are very active in politics, as this search from whosfundingwhom.org shows.

What is BOMA doing to effect the policital process? What politicians do they support? They include Michella Alioto-Pier, Carole Midgen, Tom Hsieh, and Rob Black, as shown here. Wonder if BOMA s also supporting Black’s competitor in District 6, Chris Daly? For the answer, see Chris Daly’s rant about business interests at the Fog City Journal.

San Francisco to Bank of New York: 634 mil!

The top city contractor for the city of san francisco is the Bank of New York— they have city contracts for over 634 million bucks since 2004, almost all with the Airport commission…don’t know what this means exactly, and after all what could be wrong with a little cross-costal friendliness.
Why do I know this? I’m integrating the city contracts database, available at the Controller’s office, with the campaign finance database we have at http://whosfundingwhom.org. The first thing I did was download the raw data from the controllers and run some database operations to sort by total amounts. You can also see which city departments are involved in big contracts, and with whom.

My next step is to do a name match on the databases to find out the top campaign contributors who have also been awarded city contracts. What fun we’re having at http://whosfundingwhom.org!

Here’s the top 10:

Vendor Amount
B N Y WESTERN TRUST $634,763,741.00
REGENTS OF THE UNIVE $177,036,142.00
STATE OF CALIFORNIA $130,532,260.00
CCSF HRD WORKERS COM $68,921,845.00
MCKESSON $60,257,539.00

Usual Suspects is the place to read about SF politics

Want to learn about the San Francisco political scene? The best place to start is http://sfusualsuspects.com, which provides a daily listing of the political articles in all of the Bay Area media outlets, including the chronicle, examiner, bay guardian, bay area reporter, and some of the local television station sites.

sfusualsuspects also have a listing of the candidates for the upcoming 2006 races. The Bay Guardian supplements this with a set of candidate interviews for your podcast listening pleasure, and my site, opencampaigns.com, also provides some information on the races, e.g., see the interesting stuff going on in the supervisor district 6 race involving incumbent Chris Daly.

Alex Clemens is the founder of sfusualsuspects. He is a consultant for Barbary Coast Consulting and worked in the Clinton administration.

SF District 4 Fundraising: Whosfundingwhom.org

Fund raising for the district 4 seat in the SF board of supervisors is heating up. Bonnie Eslinger’s recent article in the Examiner details the funding of primary candidates Doug Chan and Jaynry Mak.

With SF Ethics Commission filing data, whosfundingwhom.org can create graphs of campaign filing information. The picture below shows part of a graph for Doug Chan. You can see the whole thing at whosfundingwhom. Mak’s graph is here. Note the the graphs show the top 5 contributors and receivers of expenditures for each entity.

Popup Politicians

Sunlight Labs has released some very cool software that allows bloggers, when referring to politicians, to refer not just to a text name, but have a java script enabled bubble pop up with an image and references to the politicians various records (at congresspedia, etc.) Micah Sifry, director, blogs about it here and demonstrates it here. Ellen Miller, Sunlight’s Director, talks about it here. Thanks to the Left Coaster for the link.
This is a specific example of a more general concept which has something to do with the Semantic Web, or the semantic web, as Tantek Celik and the microformats call it. We need people to be first-class objects on the web, and there needs to be ways to refer to a person other than just text. Of course it needs to be easy to do– I’d rather just type the person’s name, or choose it from a list, and have my blog tool put in the plumbing to some uri which define the person.

The popup politician idea got me thinking in terms of how peoplicious could be used in this manner. So I decided to mark up this blog post using peoplicious urls for the people and groups to whom I refer. Try out the links! Hell, lets also do it for a politician, ARNOLD, and a peoplicious list, the 2006 Gov. Candidates

Of course I had to manually put the links in. But let’s say peoplicious or some other people directory service gains traction. Then wordpress might have a plug-in which would automatically insert the plumbing when you referred to a person or group.

Open Campaigns is a People Problem

I met today with representatives from the State of California’s Political Reform division. Unfortunately, they are in almost the exact state as San Francisco’s Ethics commission in terms of making campaign funding, lobbyist, and other political records readily available. I’ll describe in terms of distinct levels:

0. Paper forms: yes

1. On-line filing (input): implementing on-line forms for everything as opposed to paper forms. This is the focus of both SF and the State. They are behind the law– the ones requiring there be on-line filing for the various forms. Until this problem is met they can hardly think about the next levels.

2. On-line form retrieval: yes, you can get to exact forms filed, but…

3. On-line “relational” views (output):implementing search as well as associative views and graphs to show funding relationships. Neither SF or California has been able to focus much effort in this area. The California site’s search, for instance, only works on exact names. There are no associative views, so you can click around between say funders and politicians and their records. No graphs. Basically, you can get to the raw forms to find a particular entity by exact name.

4. Web services- implementing xml web service access to data. Not even on the radar.

How can this be fixed? Money and resources are a problem, as always, and perhaps there is some natural disincentive by our leaders to make all this data readily available.

The key to the whole thing, though, is that every municipality and state government is working separately on the SAME EXACT PROBLEMS! Everyone is reproducing the same work. If there were some collaboration, we’d probably be working on (4) the web service level instead of (1) the input level.

Driving back from Sacramento, I tried to think of how the whosfundingwhom project could help. What we’ve accomplished so far is to 1) help SF with their input problem by developing an on-line lobbyist input system, and 2) help SF with their output problem by developing whosfundingwhom.org, which downloads raw data, builds a relational database, and then provides relational and graph views of funding data.

A next step will be to “port” the software to another place. What better venue than the state. The kind folks at the State are going to send me a CD with all their funding data. What we’ll do is build a new import module to read this data into our relational database. Then we’ll have a database of SF data and a database of Cal data in the same format, and our nice views and graphs will work on either. So this could help California with the output side of things and get their data readily available to the public.

The next step would be to provide an xml web service layer on top of that common database format. Then any client software could access both SF and Cal data and create reports and views however they want. Other cities could join in by implementing a module that creates a database like ours from their data.

This, however, is not the right way to structure things to solve the overall problem of getting all municipalities up to speed and having all the data interoperable. Saying to the world: “if you write a module that creates a database of the following form, you will be interoperable” is a poor design: xml was built exactly for these types of problems. What we really need is for every city and state to publish their data in a common xml format on top of their own databases. In other words, come up with an xml schema, show that it works with SF and CAL, then publish that schema. Cities can then take whatever data format they have and write a web service that conforms to the schema. And it’s not that big a deal, basically writing a wrapper around key functionality like: return all funders of committee x.

The problem is a people one– getting these various overrun agencies to work together, agree that providing xml web service access at each is the best way to get good web page access to all. In other words, flip flop my (3) and(4) above– get the agencies to implement (4) web services, then clients could build all kinds of great associative views with data from EVERYWHERE, not just a locale!