Let’s talk money, politics and transparency at Open Knowledge Festival 2014

A silhouette of a cheering man sitting on top of a stack of money.
Image credit: Sunlight Foundation.

All over the world, money shapes politics. Political parties and candidates in any country need money to support their activities in both election and non-election years, and that’s okay. Whether that funding comes from public sources, private contributors or both, the reality is that the financing of political activities throughout the world is often linked to actual corruption or the appearance of corruption.

Political finance transparency is crucial to understanding the influence agenda in a country, to prevent or curtail violations of political finance laws, to uncover potential conflicts of interests and to determine whether changes to a country’s system of political financing are required. Outside of the campaign and elections world, political finance transparency is crucial to addressing the problem of off-budget government expenditures and tendering scandals — particularly problematic in the extractives and defense sectors — that are too often the result of undisclosed political financing.

The open government movement has played a valuable role in shining a light on the workings of government, but money in politics remains a depressingly murky realm. This is why Sunlight Foundation, Global Integrity and the Electoral Integrity Project launched the Money, Politics and Transparency project a few months ago, with the intention to collect systematic evidence around the issue and create momentum for a change.

Besides gathering data and blogging extensively about national level reform efforts, our goal is also to build a global community that will use that new information to identify possible norms to guide future political finance transparency efforts. As a first step, we organized a workshop after Sunlight’s annual TransparencyCamp for our international guests, to address some of the relevant challenges facing the international open government community.

In order to take that conversation forward, we are now preparing a session at OKFestival to hear about the potential challenges in different political finance disclosure regimes, and to be able to come up with potential solutions and next steps for this important, controversial and highly under-regulated area. Our interactive workshop will introduce transparency projects and technology tools that help uncover the influence of money on politics and identify possible global norms to guide future political finance transparency efforts.

Some of the specific challenges we want to discuss at our session are: what we can do to monitor the influence of money in politics when there’s no reliable government data on political funding (which is pretty much the case almost everywhere throughout the world); what are the more creative ways to connect the dots; how can we engage average citizens in such an abstract political issue, especially if it does not necessarily have a tangible impact on their everyday life; and, last but not least, what kind of data should be disclosed eventually. And in our attempt to move a bit beyond technology, we also want to discuss potential advocacy efforts too — can we get reforms without a scandal or do we have to wait until something happens to get momentum?