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Dear Fellow Network Analysts,

At first glance, www.maplight.org looks like a goldmine. It shows which
interest groups gave how much money to which California legislators and
congressmen. (I found out about it from David Pogue's column in this
Thursday's NY Times.

It would be great to do person-interest-person networking and clustering.
However, I ran the site behind a close friend who knows California well.
My friend cautions (I've edited a bit to anonymize):

"Oh, and now after looking at the site, its way out of date. Half those
people aren't legislators anymore due to term limits. I also think the data
is not accurate. I can't say why, but my feeling is that some of these
figures are too high and others too low. Also, it doesn't say whether they
only measure controversial bills or not. If a bill has few or no votes
against it that means it wasn't a tough bill. It could artificially raise
the numbers. Most of what we do is not controversial. It would be a fairer
assessment to look at the controversial bills (however you define that).

"Also, it ignores philosophies. People support representativse, giving
money and endorsing them because of what they believe."

BW: My friend points out that alliances are known beforehand, and that
people vote mostly in line with their alliances -- linked to their
principles.

"The concern would be if there were some anomalous vote where
representatives weren't consistent with their prior votes and philosophy,
and didn't have a good reason, and there were a large sum of money
involved (which there can't be in California due to our campaign
contribution limits) and it came from someone whom they normally don't
agree with.  That situation would be worth looking at, however, that situation
would get glossed over by the statistics. In fact, that would probably be
looked at more favorably since it would give the appearance that the
person didn't always vote with the same group. Somehow a 100% voting
record is perceived as being in the pocket of somebody rather than
demonstrating a consistent philosophy, and vice versa.  Although it
doesn't state it, things like this show a correlation and imply causation
when it really isn't true."

BW: Another distortion is that it fingers Fabien Nunez as a super-high
fund raiser. But Fabien is the Speaker of the Legislature, and therefore
gets lotsa bucks to channel to other members. I assume Newt Gingrich,
Nancy Pelosi, and other people in structurally similar positions would
have similar anomalies -- whatever their political party.

Barry Wellman

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