The Washington Post

Get excited, congressional chart aficionados

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) tears into a chart. (Image by Bill Gray) Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) tears into a chart. (Image by Bill Gray)

The fan club for congressional charts — those bulky cardboard signs often bearing bar graphs or amateurish clip art that members of Congress employ when they want to make a particularly punchy point  — is bigger than one might think.

Bill Gray, a C-SPAN producer by day, has been building up his Web site,, which archives images of the congressional poster boards —  a genre that ranges from the bizarre to the inscrutable. What started a year ago with only a few hundred images is now 2,000 shots strong and boasts more than 35,000 Tumblr followers.

And there’s more geekiness to come: Gray just snagged a grant to improve his Web site’s bells and whistles. Of course, the $1,000 from the local branch of the global Awesome Foundation isn’t enough on which to build a media empire, but Gray sees it as a validation of the site’s nerdy mission.

Which is? Gray says he simply wants to record the ways in which elected leaders use visuals (he’s branched out from just documenting charts to include various props) to communicate with the public. So we get gems like Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) brandishing a bottle of Maker’s Mark bourbon, or Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) standing before a blown-up version of a Pink Floyd album cover.

Future historians, take note.

Gray himself seems a bit mystified by the project’s fans, which extends well beyond the loyal group of Capitol Hill journalists and junkies who often e-mail him with sightings of posters or other goofy gags.  “I would like to say that it’s that they like Congress and like seeing their government at work,” he says. But he knows many visitors enjoy the sheer oddity of the members’ offerings and the often-inelegant graphics.

No matter how tempting it is to mock, Gray prefers, much like his employer, C-SPAN,  to simply offer the images without any editorial comment, whether it be snark or praise.

Call him the poster boy for “fair and balanced.”

RELATED: See some of the best of  ‘Floor Charts’ 

Emily Heil is the co-author of the Reliable Source and previously helped pen the In the Loop column with Al Kamen.

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