During the 2004 election, opensecrets.org, Fundrace, and some big newspapers rolled out clickable maps of campaign donations, based on publicly available records. The maps revealed a few interesting things graphically:
- The vast preponderance of money raised comes from places like the Upper East Side of Manhattan, Chicago’s Gold Coast, and wealthy neighborhoods of L.A.
- Data showed some donors hedge their bets by donating to opposing campaigns, both in the primary and in the general.
- Despite the whole red state-blue state thing, there’s not really so much residential segregation between wealthy Democrats and Republicans.
- There IS such a thing as setting information free. How many citizens would comb through reams of Board of Elections data? But clickable maps are fun!
It was only a matter of time then, before the defeated-but-fired-up opponents of Proposition 8 posted their own interactive campaign donation map. (Prop 8 is the measure that banned gay marriage in California, it passed, narrowly, last November and is now in legal limbo).
What’s really striking is that this “mash-up of Google Maps and Prop 8 Donors” opens in San Francisco, and the city is covered with scores of pins signifying each pro-8 donor. Click on a pin, and you get the name, address, and amount of money contributed. The map even reveals that a couple of people living in the Castro (!?!) gave to the Yes on 8 campaign. Fed up with the neighbors, eh? Other hotbeds of Pro-8 giving include Republican enclaves like Orange County and Utah (clearly, California has no law forbidding out-of-state donations).
There’s a lively debate going now about whether this kind of thing invites vigilantism. (Andrew Sullivan has been hosting opinions and posting his own.) Even before the Prop 8 map was created, an online database of Pro-8 donors, antigayblacklist.com, claimed a victim: the artistic director of the California Musical Theater, who resigned his job when a furor erupted.
There are victims, and there are victims, of course. Thousands of anti-gay crimes happen every year, without the help of interactive maps. And I’ve seen no reports of anything worse than a resignation resulting from setting this information free.