My short bio: I'm Solomon Kahn, former fellow at the Harvard University Safra Center For Ethics, and I've built a super powerful tool to explore who gives money to federal politicians. At my day job I run the data team at Paperless Post.

I'm currently running a kickstarter for the tool so I can help journalists use it. You can find the kickstarter here: The tool will be free, open source, and open to the public, launching in a few months.

Bring me your Senators and Congresspeople, and I'll make a screencast about who they raise money from!

My Proof:

Edit: Wow, so happy this is blowing up! I'm going to stay and continue to do videos for a while. To me, the most exciting thing about this project is that when this launches, people on reddit can go through the politicians themselves, and submit all the interesting things they find to be put on the politicians's page, and sent directly to journalists. The fact this is becoming popular gives me so much hope that I'll achieve my crazy dream for this project, that we can do complete campaign finance research on every single politician. If you want more details on this, check out the kickstarter video:

Edit 2 I can't do anymore screencasts tonight, but since there seems to be so much interest, I'll do a part 2 in two weeks on Sunday June 14th. There are tons of politicians I didn't get to, including Obama vs. Romney and a bunch of the other presidential races, so hopefully we can cover that next time.

Comments: 1466 • Responses: 29  • Date: 

jpropaganda1293 karma

How about a visualization of Bernie Sanders fundraising? How does it compare to Hillary's?

solomonkahn766 karma

Here you go!

Since so many people are interested in Clinton and Sanders, I would be happy to do follow up screencasts to answer any specific questions. Just reply to this with more questions.

Edit: Just a quick tidbit for people who can't watch the video: Bernie Sanders consistently raises the least money of any Senator. Clinton raises the most money of any Senator.

Gersthofen184 karma

Where's my mistake?

Clinton 2006 = $27,190,129

Sanders 2006 > $2,400,000

2006 Population New York state = 19,100,000

(2006 Population New York city = 8,251,000)

2006 Population Vermont = 622,892

Clinton 2006 per capita = $1.42

Sanders 2006 per capita > $3.85

edit: had NYC population, not NY state

solomonkahn127 karma

This is an interesting way of looking at things!

In general, the reason people don't look at the numbers in this way, is because we are worried about the strings that come attached to money, and the positions a candidate has to take to be appealing to the people who fund them in order to get that money.

In that sense, the absolute numbers matter far more than the per capita numbers. You can have policies that the primary funders of our elections (the extremely wealthy) disagree with much more easily when you're trying to raise a small amount of money compared to when you're trying to raise a large amount of money.

nowhathappenedwas82 karma

Bernie Sanders consistently raises the least money of any Senator. Clinton raises the most money of any Senator.

For more context, you should probably mention that Clinton's opponent in her 2000 Senate election spent 35% more than she did.

solomonkahn48 karma

Very true, that would have been good context. Sorry I missed that, it was a quick screencast.

ProfoundlyProfound6 karma

All I wanna know is why you haven't answered the many requests for Obama's funding?

solomonkahn83 karma

It's a conspiracy!

Just kidding. I will get to Obama soon enough.

iron_ball708 karma

Some politicians have publicly condemned the campaign finance system. Retired politicians, who no longer fear losing their donors, broadly condemn it. But the current system has three obvious forms of lock-in:

  1. Collective Action Problem: Any politician who chooses not to work within the current system is dropping her gun first. Voluntary disarmament must be mutual. Result: Politicians cannot change their own behavior without losing their seats.
  2. The Fist of the 1%: Any politician who tries to change the law faces opposition from the lobbying industry and from politicians who have gained power and success under the current system. Result: Politicians cannot change the law in the face of powerful opposition.
  3. Ignorance and Apathy: Americans care about this issue, but hardly anyone realizes that it is a hard requirement for the improvement of government. People like Lawrence Lessig are trying damn hard to change this, but I don't believe they're making much headway. Result: Upstarts cannot win elections campaigning on this issue.

Your tool could really help on the "Ignorance and Apathy" side, especially if journalists can use it to find stories, but I'm worried that targeted muckraking won't have much effect on the system itself. Do you have any thoughts on that, or on the other two issues?

(Disclosure: Sol is my co-worker, and I think this project is awesome.)

solomonkahn335 karma

Hi mysterious coworker (find me on Monday to tell me who you are)!

You bring up a lot of great points. I don't think this project alone is enough to bring the massive change the system needs, but I think that, in conjunction with other changes, it can make a big difference, and hopefully it can make it easier to make the other changes we need.

Many of the proposals from people who want to reform campaign finance aren't about getting money completely out of politics, but are about giving people who are powerless in the current environment the tools (money) they need to compete with a few massively wealthy people.

Under those changes, politicians who were dependent on serving the regular, politically powerless people, would have the resources to compete with rich, vested interests. I'm hoping that when people understand more about what's actually happening, we will be in a better environment to accomplish the meaningful changes that will be necessary.

sincewedidthedo410 karma

What's my boy Jeb Bush up to?

solomonkahn851 karma

I am SO GLAD you asked this question!

I, and the rest of the American people, have no clue what Jeb Bush is up to. Even though we all know he's running for president, he hasn't filed any statement of candidacy with the FEC, and so he hasn't disclosed any money he's raised.

There are currently complaints to the FEC right now, accusing a number of potential presidential candidates, including Jeb Bush, of violating FEC regulations by fundraising but not announcing themselves as candidates / disclosing what they're doing.

Here's a politico article about it:

Here's a perfect example of how politicians are using every loophole in the law, which has already been weakened to a pitiful state, to raise an unprecedented amount of money from the tiniest fraction of extremely wealthy individuals.

JD90210249 karma

Senator Dianne Feinstein?

solomonkahn107 karma

Sorry I didn't get to this, and now my son is asleep in the next room so I can't do a screencast. This didn't have nearly as many votes a few hours ago, otherwise I would have done it before I finished.

I'll definitely go through Dianne Feinstein in two weeks when I do the part 2.

bakbakgoesherthroat229 karma

I wonder where my girl, Elizabeth Warren, gets her funding from?

Kerrigore219 karma

Holy crap, one of Elizabeth Warren's parents is on this AMA!

solomonkahn65 karma

Ha, ok, I'll do a visualization for her next!

solomonkahn108 karma

Here you go, Elizabeth Warren!

chef_wanna_love9 karma

This is coming late, but earlier you mentioned that since Jeb did not officially file, his details are not available. Didn't Elizabeth say she was not running for presidency? How are her details available?

solomonkahn30 karma

This is from her Senate campaign, not any presidential campaign.

Jeb Bush has never run for federal office, so he has no other historical campaigns to look at.

Perpension198 karma

Where does Rand Paul get his money from?

solomonkahn126 karma

Here you go!

In this screencast, I also spoke a bit about superpacs and undisclosed donors.

goofgy38 karma

you said that he does get a lot of Koch money through superPAC's but you showed no evidence of that. It might be true, but I mean, where is the evidence?

solomonkahn54 karma

That is exactly what campaign finance reformers are trying to fight against. We're pretty sure where this money is coming from, but loopholes let the massively wealthy flaunt the spirit of the law so they can keep their spending secret.

Look at the lengths funders go, and look at how hard we researchers have to work to try and understand who is funding elections:

Opcop181 karma

What impact do you think this will have on the general public?

solomonkahn473 karma

People have been worried about money in politics forever. I saw one of Bernie Sanders old speeches from the 80's and he was complaining about the influence of money in politics.

I think people don't realize how much worse the problem has become. Back in 1992, Clinton only raised 33 million to win the presidential election. Now, we're estimating that the presidential candidates will raise around $2 billion each. The scope of what's going on is so much more than it used to be. It seems quaint that we used to be worried about $33 million.

I'm hoping that people and journalists can use this tool to get an accurate picture about what's going on, as opposed to the vague ideas that there are bad things going on with money in politics, no different than it's been in the past.

6morris1990 karma

What is Scott Walker doing in terms of fundraising?

solomonkahn74 karma

Scott Walker is like Jeb Bush, we have no idea what he's doing.

Or rather, we know that people affiliated with him are out raising millions of dollars, but they don't need to report that yet to the FEC. Check out this tweet:

bakbakgoesherthroat77 karma

Have you received any threats due to the nature of your work?

solomonkahn143 karma

Not yet.

hardcoreparkour161 karma

Could you show me from whom Sen. Ron Wyden and Sen. Jeff Merkley get their money?

solomonkahn32 karma

Here's Ron Wyden:

To answer the below question, yes, seems like there have been some interesting changes from security contractors recently!

waterbananas49 karma

Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell?

solomonkahn16 karma

inksplattered42 karma

Does U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster (R-9th) of Pennsylvania get a lot of money from transportation lobbies?

solomonkahn61 karma

Yes, he gets more money from transportation than I have ever seen any other candidate get from transportation!

funnyfaceking41 karma

Rep. Scott Garrett (NJ-5)?

solomonkahn59 karma

Here you go!

Looks like the first few seconds are blank space, but skip to five seconds and you will be good to go!

WashBox30 karma

How about ol' Mitch McConnel?

solomonkahn16 karma

corneliuscardoo25 karma

Have you looked into your own member of Congress? Who do they take money from? Do you feel like they represent constituents like yourself or the corporations and lobbyists that give them the big bucks?

solomonkahn32 karma

Thanks for this question, here you go!

droveby25 karma

A little bit off-topic: your last name, is it related to the "Khan" name, but just spelled differently? Or is it entirely related to "Khan"?

solomonkahn34 karma

No worries! The typical Jewish way to spell the name is Kahn, and in other countries and cultures, it's more common to spell it Khan. I'm not sure if there is an original basis for the name that predates all the individual spellings of it.

LennyIV24 karma

How about Hillary Clinton?

Also, I have pledged $7,000. I wish you the best of luck.

solomonkahn2 karma

rapturecity11322 karma

What can you tell me about chris christie? You asked for senators and congressman but in my state he's the most polarized figure. There any insight you can provide on how corrupt the guy is?

solomonkahn32 karma

My tool only looks at federal data for now, although it's going to be open source, so we could put it on top of state data, or data from other countries in the future.

Chris Christie seems pretty corrupt to me, even if you assume he's done nothing technically illegal. Withholding Sandy aid money to people who were his political enemies, spending millions of dollars of taxpayer money on a commercial glorifying his family while doing very little for New Jersey, all these are legal things he's done which seem pretty corrupt to me.

harDCore18217 karma

Kind of off topic to why you're here...but,

What's working with the data team like at paperless post? I'm just getting into Python and love it! We also just used PP to send out post wedding party invites and I think that is a great site.

solomonkahn24 karma

So glad you liked using Paperless Post for your wedding!

Paperless Post is a great company to work at, and the data team is awesome. Full disclosure, I run the team, so I am biased. But, we're hiring for multiple data roles, so if you have data skills, you should come in, meet us, and form your own opinions!

Madrona_Arbutus29 karma

how often do you get mistaken for Sal Khan from Khan Academy

solomonkahn26 karma

Over email, once or twice a year. In person, never.

Hemb3 karma

This doesn't have anything to do with your great new app, I hope you don't mind. I'm about to receive my PhD in math, but don't want to continue in academia after graduating. Big data is clearly the wave of the future and I would love to get into it, but my research now is in abstract topology and not relevant. I do have programming experience, but not much. I have no doubt that I could learn what I need quickly, but I'm worried employers would just see overpriced and underexperienced.

My question is, how seriously would a resume like that be taken in your field? Is it worth trying for this career jump?

solomonkahn6 karma

It's really tough to find good data people. If you can program, have a solid background in math, and understand the basics of business, it should be straightforward to find a job.

I highly advise doing public side projects.

textik8 karma

Oh, neat!

How about Darrell Issa (CA 49)?