2016 Excellence in Visual Digital Storytelling, Large Newsroom finalist

Buying Democracy

Zach Toombs, Andrew Lawler, Ted Noelker


Excellence in Visual Digital Storytelling, Large Newsroom


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About the Project

Buying Democracy visualizes the complex network of big money donors and industries that fuel campaigns for the White House. The project uses animated graphics, interactive media and other forms of online storytelling to bring these numbers to life and give them meaning. This project makes campaign finance a highly visual and easily navigated subject, even for political outsiders.

Taking complex campaign finance data off the spreadsheets and into the era of data visualization, Buying Democracy shows our twisted campaign finance system and the flow of money in politics in a way viewers have never seen before. The graphics-heavy interactive interface tells the story of how these relationships change the course of elections.

The project itself has changed (and will continue to change) over time as the race changes, with some political networks expanding, some contracting and some becoming more tied to a single industry as candidates fall back even more heavily on donors with deep pockets.

Obstacles to building Buying Democracy included visualizing a topic that is notoriously difficult to visualize: campaign finance. We do this by disregarding the smokescreens big donors use to flood the campaign trail with funds (super PACs, 501(c)(4)s) and instead draw a big, bold, straight line between the candidates and the millionaires who fund their candidacies.

That’s not to mention the technology, which was uniquely developed for this project — a meld of animated graphics, interactive features and cutting-edge web design, all meant to immerse the user and keep them engaged with what might otherwise be a dry topic.