Members by Interest is another entry for the Congressional Data Competition.

When you examine the XML files at the GPO’s Bulk Data Bill Status page, you find that there is a wealth of data about each item, all lovingly detailed in the accompanying manual. For this project though, I wanted to concentrate on two pieces of information: who were the sponsors and cospsonsors of a given bill or resolution, and what that item was about.

The hope is to to give a sense of whether individual members of congress differ in their interests (as reflected in the bills that they sponsor or cosponsor). To quote the about page:

One member may be very interested in farming, while another concerns herself primarily with foreign affairs. It is possible to guess at some of these interests by looking at geographical region or committee assignments, but a more direct route is to examine the types of bills that an individual member sponsors and cosponsors. This is useful information not only to observers of congress, but also for citizens who are especially concerned with a given issue.

The “aboutness” of an item is determined by looking at the indexing that is helpfully provided by the Congressional Research Service. Notably, every bill and resolution is assigned a single Policy Area term that attempts to categorize what it is about in a broad sense. In addition, it is described using several different Legislative Subject Terms that give a more granular view.

The nuts and bolts are handled by a Python script that pulls policy area/legislative subject terms from a batch of Bill status records and then totals up the sponsors and cosponsors associated with each one. That data is then rendered as JSON files that get fed to a front-end that either shows a ranked list for each area/subject, such as this one for “Libraries and archives” for the 133th through the 115th congresses (Note: every sponsored bill counts for three cosponsored ones)…

…or generates a bar chart for the areas or subjects that are (proportionally speaking) most prominent in the bills sponsored or cosponsored by a particular member. For example, Rep. Clyburn (D-SC-6) has recently been an important member when it comes to items relating to the Caribbean:

…and Sen. Alexander (R-TN) has taken an interest in Animals: