The italian political watchdog openpolis launched Patrimoni trasparenti, an initiative providing public access to information regarding earnings, properties, activity in private companies and campaign budgets of italian members of parliament and government.
By tracing the economic and financial ties that circle around individual politicians, the goal was to evaluate possible conflicts of interest and to generate new tools to analyse and study political activity more in general.
The process of giving public access was mainly based on digitalizing and studying the information that italian politicians are forced to publish by law. A 1982 law forces all those that hold a public office to declare properties, shares and positions in private companies and earnings. In addition, those that are elected need to publish a campaign budget, with all the money that was raised and spent during the electoral period.
Until not too long ago this information was very hard to obtain: one needed to physically go to the parliament, submit an official request and then read copies of the documents. Reforms that followed made this information more accessible, by promoting the creation of online versions, but until now this process has been very slow.
At the moment asset declarations are published online, but are only made available in pdf format: scanned documents that are usually handwritten, low quality, very difficult to decipher and all in all very hard to analyze.
The first challenge was to make this information comprehensible and insert it in database.
In Italy’s “perfect bicamiralism”, both the chamber of deputies and the senate (upper house) have the exact same roles and powers. With Patrimoni trasparenti the asset declarations of all members of parliament and government in office in 2014 were analyzed. The current legislature witnessed two different governments, and our study looks only at the second, lead by Matteo Renzi.
All the data, now published online at patrimoni.openpolis.it, is available in open data format. Besides individual pages for each politician (with all the personal information), the website allows users to create queries by political parties and electoral districts. In addition, all the data has been analyzed and the results of the study are explained in a report of our series MiniDossier (in italian).
The first element worth mentioning is that the majority of published documents are incomplete and with little detail. 31.5% did not even respect the very loose rules set by law, by not including electoral campaign budgets.
For this reason a specific index was created to monitor how exhaustively the forms were completed, in order to evaluate the level of transparency of italian politicians. Three different levels were identified according to the amount and quality of information being published: the lowest level (partial information) was given to those who did not publish either their asset declaration or their electoral campaign budget, the second level (complete information) was given to those that published a complete version of all required documents, and the final level (additional information) was awarded to those who published more than what was asked, for example information regarding their family members.
The level of exhaustiveness of the documents published by each politicians were ranked as poor, sufficient or good. The image shows how the vast majority of declarations from both houses of parliament, chamber and senate, were poor.
Considering these results, openpolis asks institutions to fully implement the law regarding asset declarations of italian politicians, by publishing all information online in open data format, therefore allowing data to be entirely accessible and reusable.
At the same time, we ask italian politicians to take an extra step and voluntarily share additional information that is not required by law. For example, information regarding campaign donors, properties of the spouse and of other family members.
The way our institutions deal with the issue of transparency of asset declarations of public offices, continues on our blog, with the goal to better understand the relationship between money and power.
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