To paraphrase The Beatles, money may not buy you love, but it can get you a lot of influence in politics. And we’re very proud of our work with South African transparency activists, My Vote Counts, which makes data about donations to political parties easy to access for journalists and civil society.
It’s a given that political parties need to raise money in order to campaign and represent their constituents, and that supporters of parties should be free to donate money to the cause of their wish. But the question of accountability, that government acts for the benefit of all its citizens and not just those who are willing to pay a bit more for it, is as old as democracy itself. In South Africa, corruption and kickbacks have long plagued all levels of politics, from local tenders to State Capture.
Shining a light
Two years ago, South Africa entered a significant new age of transparency in this respect. Thanks to a decade or more of campaigning by groups such as My Vote Counts, it joined a select group of countries which mandate that large political donations must be made in the open, and not under the table or in brown paper bags. Under the terms of the Party Political Funding Act, any individual or organisation that gifts more than R100 000 a year, be it in cash or in kind, to a political party must now declare it to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC).
This is a huge milestone in open government to be celebrated, and while there are loopholes in the law (seats at party sponsored gala dinners, for example, can be charged for at hundreds of thousands of rands without anyone knowing who paid extra to sit by the President), it gives us a compelling insight into how parties raise the cash to campaign for government.
In a country benighted by corruption, it’s been a privilege to work with My Vote Counts on its latest project, which makes accessing and understanding money flows easier for journalists, civil society groups and researchers. Whose Vote Counts is a simple data dashboard designed to help researchers visualise and access information from the last two years. It shows all declared donations, and links donors to parties and to each other. For example, groups of companies that share founders or key board members can be connected, as can powerful and rich families.
It’s a project we’re very proud of, and is in line with our values of openness and transparency at OpenUp. We’re looking forward to updating the dashboard as new data releases come out and revising it with more features in the future. You can see Whose Vote Counts? in action here, and read more about what the last two years of declarations say about party financials here.