Last week I worked with Jesse Drucker, Bloomberg tax expert, on a graphic about how U.S. corporations lobby for tax breaks by hiring lots of former congressional staffers to lobby for them.
Jesse and Richard Rubin did a great deal of reporting and provided a rather extensive excel document of about 160 staffers, who they lobby for, who they used to work for and other details. This makes my job infinitely easier- now *all* I have to do is sift through this document, edit and redesign the information to tell the most interesting story.
Again, I restructure the data in .dot- a language Omnigraffle can read so we can get a quick visual impression of what is going on.
The first question was how to organize the people. By lobbyist? By company? By former job in the government? Organizing by lobbying company to politician seemed to be the most comprehensive and obvious direction to go in since it gave us a sense of which companies hire the most from the government; however, after listening to Jesse talk it was clear the personalities involved were a key part of the story.
So, we ended up editing down the 160 staffers to the most influential 60. Then, we flipped how to organize the data- instead of connecting everyone to the lobbying company—we connected the lobbyists to the politicans they were formerly employed by- grouping some key people by noteworthy finance committees. Then, color coded the lines by the lobbyists’ clients.
After I’ve arranged the people in omnigraffle I dump the pdf into illustrator and do some very basic styling.
Then comes indesign and the real graphic starts to show itself. Simple, smart labeling and keys for complicated graphics can mean the difference between a well articulate chart or a babbling data wank.
In the final version we added a secondary chart in the bottom right corner about the accumulated overseas earnings that these companies reinvested abroad. This massive amount of money is not subject to U.S. Federal Income Taxes. Ideally we would’ve had this data for each company on the chart so we could’ve made it a more integral part of the graphic but, we couldn’t and in the end it’s nice to see them all lined up to easily compare and contrast.
Hear Jesse talk about this story on NPR here.