Dinero y Política [Money in Politics]

Quick Look

Dinero y Política [Money in Politics] is an on-line database to make transparent electoral campaign contributions.

Beginning Date: 
March 1, 2009
Ending Date: 
September 30, 2009
Annual Budget 2009: 
Annual Budget 2010: 
Project Scale: 
Types of Tools: 


“Dinero y Política” an initiative of Poder Ciudadano Foundation ("Citizen Power Foundation") is an interactive database and a wiki which aggregates political finance data in real time from 23 different provincial databases and tracks 713 recognized political parties (414 of which participate as members of 97 different coalitions).

The funding of political parties in Argentina follows a mixed model with public funding provided to political parties for ongoing and electoral operations and also private funds from individual and corporate donors. Political parties must disclose the origin and destination of their funds, including a list of private donors, on an annual basis. The information must be published in a national newspaper and on a website. Ten days before the election, political groups must present a report with the public and private donations and details of their campaign expenses to the Electoral Body. When they do so, each province uploads a PDF document of the information on individual website. Before Dinero y Política one would have to download 23 different documents and hand-check each one to understand the relationship between money and politics. The system did not allow for comparisons, data sorting, or any type of analysis. What formerly would take over a week to analyze can now be done

Dinero y Política developed new modes of visualizing numbers and categories to provide more effective tools to analyze the financial panorama of politics in Argentina. Its platform has made it accessible for the average citizen who can quickly visualize and understand which candidates are funded by which corporations. Even more, she can compare different districts and different parties with informative graphics (graphs, bars).

As a result people will be better informed before the election takes place and will have a tool to monitor how money influences political decisions, a key factor in fighting against corruption.


Date of Audio: 
March 19, 2010


What are the biggest obstacles to your success?: 

While technology solved many of the obstacles we faced, we had some difficulties at the beginning. As an example, it was quite hard to obtain the PDF form the Electoral Body uses to collect the financial campaign data. And we could not design our database without it. It was a "battle" to obtain it but we finally got it.

Also, our budget was so small, so limited, that the members of our team dedicated time and efforts because they were inspired, they were aware of the innovative tool we created, the first substantial improvement in the way citizens access electoral public information in our country.

Another difficulty was our schedule. When we started working on the project, our projection was an 8-month project, the elections were set to be held on October 25, 2009 but President Fernández de Kirchner move the elections up by four months which added pressure to our team but we still had our platform ready for the elections in June.

How do you plan on overcoming those obstacles?: 

While we are not worried anymore with technical aspects such as obtaining the formats, or with our schedule, financial sustainability is still a concern. We applied for funding from the Knight Foundation, but our proposal was rejected and Dinero y Política is not the only project we work on.

What problem is your project aiming to overcome?: 

We are increasing the transparency in the funding of political parties. With Dinero y Política anyone can access the data they need quick and easy. With our platform any citizen can query a variety of information with one click and visualize it as a bar chart, a bubble chart or pie charts using a single data set. We make available all the information about donors, political parties, alliances and expenditures during a political campaign. It is a tool that helps citizenry, journalists and analysts.

What are the roots of that problem?: 

Before the existence of Dinero y Política you had to look at two dozen different websites from the 23 provinces and the District Central for the information they were looking for. Then you had to look for the link of a particular election and after that you had to click on each political party. There you found two preliminary reports and a final report in pdf format. If you consider that during the 2009 election 656 political parties participated, then it was a huge amount of data to process and analyze without any help. The dispersion and the format did not allow for data integration and certainly did not allow for prompt, accurate information for voters. But we are also aware that transparency in political finance is quite a specific subject matter and that there is not much serious interest in it. It simply is not a concern of the average citizen. That is why we were quite impressed when we noticed that after 2 months online we already had 2,500 unique visitors to our website - a lot more than we expected.

Why did you personally become involved in this project?: 

I am currently directing the area of Political Institutions and Government at Poder Ciudadano. I direct all the research and analysis of political representation and elections, including election campaigns. I have vast experience in political finance, I have been working on it the last seven years; when I wrote the process and specifications of the platform we could see that we might have found the tool we needed to monitor political finance.

Are you providing unofficial channels of information that should be provided by the government?: 

Well, as I said before campaign financial records and data are available for the public via the electoral body websites. But availability of data is not enough. It is important to provide tools so citizens can access and understand the data. While it is not the electoral body obligation to do so, any public database should be "accessible". We are just helping people to overcome barriers to access the information in a timely manner, and also we are providing the tools to make such information useful for their analysis.

Why is the government not providing the information?: 

While the electoral body is providing the information we need for our project, it is important to clarify that Argentina does not have yet an right to information law. We just have the constitutional right to request information from the government. When we request information we have to cite international conventions and our constitution. There is only an executive order, Executive Decree 1172/03, regulating the access to information right for the information of the Executive branch and the Presidency, however its implementation still need to be improved.

Is there a freedom of information law in the country where this project is based?: 
Is there a right to information law in the country where this project is based?: 
How does the information published on your website turn into offline change?: 

It is changing the way citizens, journalists and academic researchers access the information related to money in politics. Our database is easily comprehended and easy to use. We have made available a large amount of data that was not easy to find and even harder to process. We provide tools to facilitate the investigation and analysis and even the effects of money in politics.

What is an example of how information on your website has led to a concrete change?: 

The two most important newspapers in Argentina covered the press conference when we launched Dinero y Política and afterwards they used our platform as the source for their analysis of the money involved in the recent political campaigns. With our platform any investigative journalist can obtain an specific data she may need for her analysis quick and easy.

How many people work on your project?: 
How many hours a week do you personally spend on the project?: 

I do not have a precise answer to your question. It depends on the stage of the project, and it is not my only activity at Poder Ciudadano but the planing stage and the stage before our launch were the most time-consuming phases.

How many hours does the whole team spend on the project?: 

While we were in the planing stage, it took a while to design the architecture of the platform, and then our technology developer and his team dedicated many hours to build the platform. When the platform was ready we had to fix and modify some details on it. We needed a tool to fit our needs. For the next election it will require less time since our platform will automatically collect the data sets from different sources. It will be a real-time database, connecting with the information units of each local database and capturing the data from it. The platform will be fed from various sources automatically.

What are the most time consuming tasks?: 

The hardest part was to find all the relevant information and then to create a user-friendly website architecture. To create a clear, easy to use research platform is hard. But our software developer did an amazing job, and found solutions to all our requests.

How do you extract value from large amounts of data? How do you build engagement around it?: 

It made easier to analyze the elections and how money influences the elections in general. With a click you will know how much money is spent in a political campaign in Argentina. Argentina is a multi-party system with more than 700 political parties so the analysis is complicated. The last election I analyzed data from up to 300 different political party alliances. Before the existence of our platform I had to use a calculator to manually add data, one by one, category by category. Now it is possible to do it automatically.

Now any researcher, including Poder Ciudadano, can analyze and arrive to conclusions in a short period of time. Then the press will be able to provide analysis sooner, before the election takes place, which leads to more informed voters (actually that was the whole purpose of requiring the reports on campaign funding sources 10 days before the election takes place).

How do you verify the identities of participants on your website?: 

We do not verify the identities of participants. We do not even require any registration. The platform is open, the wiki requires registration if you wish to edit it, but we are fine if someone protects her or his identity using a nickname. I should mention that anyone can download our data sets in html, csv, or JSon format. It is public information.

How do you attract new participants?: 

With the use of new technologies. Before we stated using new technologies, we used to publish a book, a paper... and our impact was limited to those reading the book, but we realized that new technologies offered a unique opportunity to reach more people and increase the awareness of the impact of money in politics and the impact of corruption in general. As a consequence of the adoption of new technologies, the number of people interested in financial campaign details increased exponentially.

What has been the most effective method of spreading awareness about your project?: 

Its announcement by the most important newspapers or Argentina had a positive effect and from that point the number of visitors is increasing. We have local traffic but also visitors from different countries around the world. Poder Ciudadano is the Argentinian Chapter of Transparency International and its network has helped us promote the initiative.

What are your biggest referrers? Where does most of your traffic come from?: 

Mostly Google. Directly from our website or from our main organization main website. While many blogs and sites have links to us, we did not collect such information.

Where is your content re-posted? What effect has that had on your project?: 

In different blogs, digital news portals, different newspapers and news shows too. Our visibility increases when mainstream media mentions or uses our projects as its source. Some media said that our project was the Argentinian equivalent of Sunlight Foundation to make our politics transparent.

Has legal action been taken against your website?: 

No. Not at all. We use public information. Our database is registered in the National Registry of Databases. So far we have not had any legal problems.

What metrics do you use to judge your own success?: 

The first metric will be how our tool made simple, quick and easy the analysis of financial data related to political campaign. As users of the platform we were satisfied with our performance on that and we realized that we have now in our hands a powerful instrument to make our work better and easier. The second metric will be the number of users, we were expecting around 100 unique visitors at most, but now we have up to 2000 unique visitors. As I said before, the financial aspects or political campaigns is not a popular field of study or an interest of the average citizen. It is a rather complex issue. But surprisingly more and more people are realizing its importance and checking the available data. The third metric is the good feedback from journalists and researchers who used our platform. They were satisfied and happy with the new tool.

What are the incentives to participate in your project?: 

I will emphasize once again the importance as citizens and voters the importance of transparency in political finance. It is an important tool to limit corrupt practices in the funding of political parties. If you know where money comes from, how it is distributed and where it is spent, then you are able to uncover the motivation linked to donations. It is important to understand corrupt networks and how it is related to political campaigns, not only in Argentina but around the world. It is a pervasive system of corruption where groups of interest use their campaign contributions to shape public policy and donors ask favors in return of their campaign contributions.

The subject matter is so important that our next step, if we get funding, will be to promote crowd sourcing, to involve researchers from every district and invite them to dig deeper, to carefully analyze the situation in their provinces. We are just starting and our tool offers unlimited possibilities to involve more people, more data and increase the quality of our research.

What skills and expertise would be of assistance to your project?: 

Actually we do not need assistance with our expertise or with any skills, in fact we are experts on the subject and we outsourced the technical aspects. We are satisfied with the amazing work done by our developer. But it is really interesting to see and learn from different projects around the world. In the future we will like to synchronize the Dinero y Política database with other public information databases. As an example, we can create a Congressional Vote database we can monitor the way a member of the Congress votes and then combine such data with the donors of her or his campaign. Such data can shed the light on the interest she or he supports or feels compelled or coerced to vote in a specific way.

How do you plan on financially sustaining your project? : 

Argentinian NGOs do not have many funding opportunities. It is a whole different panorama for us if we compare our budgets with our peers in Central America and the Caribbean. We dedicate a lot of time and efforts to our projects but we have limited resources. In fact we deliver high quality results with ten times less money. We will like to do many things but we do not have certainty about the financial future of our project.

What other organizations are you working with?: 

The Friedrich Naumann Foundation, a German philanthropist organization sponsored our project but did not have any influence in its development. It just provided the money to create it. Dinero y Política was exclusively done by Poder Ciudadano.

Have you thought about developing your own tools?: 

In fact we designed and participated actively in the development of our tools. We want to take a step further and share our tools and experiences with our countries. We can provide training services and our expertise to other countries, we have done that in the past helping our colleagues in Bolivia, in Paraguay, in the Dominican Republic.

Has there been any communication between your project and government officials?: 

Official representatives were invited to our launch event and that was the only contact we had with them. But I can assure you they are using our tool too.

Are there any legal obstacles to your work? Any laws that should be changed?: 


Have there been any attempts to replicate your work elsewhere?: 


What other projects in your region should we know about?: 

Before Dinero y Política, we created a Database to monitor the allocation of governmental advertising in media and advertising spending. While the technology we use to build it is simple, it was the first project we created using new technologies to increase transparency and accountability.

If someone gave you $30,000 how would you use the money?: 

What a tricky question, to answer that I must meet my whole team, evaluate our budget, our priorities and our objectives. It is not easy to answer off the top of my head. But certainly we would like to expand the scope of our work. We want to be able to monitor each area of the country, every province in Argentina, and we will like to deepen our analysis, especially in each district. As I mentioned before, we will like to pay researchers in every district and open our platform to create crowd-sourced analysis using the data we facilitate.

Now we just cover national elections, but in our federal political system many elections take place on a local level and we consider that it is really important to cover it, to localize our national efforts and to provide the tools so anyone can watch their electoral processes and increase its transparency.

What are your plans for 2010 and 2011?: 

I can share with you many ideas we have in mind, ideas we consider extremely useful to increase the transparency and accountability in our country. We will like to create a system to analyze together different data sets from different sources, synchronize key databases and analyze all together data from media coverage, financial aspects of political campaigns and records from Congress. To monitor media and its role in politics is really important. 90% of political campaign expenses are spent in media, right there in the intersection between political finance and media is where I see a link, a connection between our databases. As I explained before, the architecture of Dinero y Política is open. It should not be difficult to add more data, more tools and more functions to it. We are also discussing the importance of public procurement, of contractors and how it influences politics. Money in politics is closely connected with transparency too. You can compare who funded a party with the benefits obtained from public procurement contracts granted to those who contributed to the official party.

Another project we will like to create is the mass media role during presidential campaigns. We want to document the coverage of each presidential candidate, if the coverage is favorable or unfavorable, her or his opinions on a topic, candidates opinions by topic and space dedicated to cover a candidate on which topics is more extensive. It will provide a tool for voters to allow them to reconsider if their candidate shares their views, values and goals. It will be useful to improve the objectivity of media during elections.

Further Questions

You mentioned before that while Central America and the Caribbean receive more funds from international donors, opportunities for an organization in Argentina are reduced, could you explain more about it?

Many donors from agencies and private foundations label Argentina as a “developed country”, as a country with higher rates of economic conditions. But we struggle with our budgets and it is really difficult to obtain funds for our initiatives.

Many times international aid focus its donations on a trendy topic at a particular time: it can be global warming and environmental issues, the “fight against poverty”, natural resources. Donations are closely connected with an agenda and it usually does not resemble the need of civil society in a country. Indeed, poverty in Argentina is not as rampant as poverty in Central America or Africa. But it is reasonable to consider that similar projects will require a proportional amount of funds and results. Many times in poor countries a project will cost ten times more, in Central America and the Caribbean they do the same work we do with thousands of dollars in their budget. We have never work on a project with a million dollars budget and our results are optimal. We are often surprised with the large amounts of money that international aid donates for developing countries. I will do a project with $15,000 while in the Dominican Republic a team will do a similar project with a million dollars. We are one of the oldest, most experienced organization in the continent working on issues related to transparency and elections and we have never worked with such huge amounts of money. And you can see and compare the results of our work.

Is there anything we haven't asked that you would like us to?: 

That it will be great to discuss the role of technology against corruption during the International Anti Corruption Conference IACC in Thailand. I see technology, new technologies and the web as an opportunity that is opening many doors, expanding the impact of our initiatives against corruption and reaching many people, making them aware of the importance of transparency.


A question of real possibilities

Dinero y Politica could be regarded as the beginning of multiple projects, all regarding public investments and suggestion from citizens. However, I wonder if the fact that some users are anonymous would play a role in the credibility of the information. The issue of money in politics tends to complicate easily. The site could also use some more context information regarding cases of money wrongly used in political campaigns and also examples of successful cases. History and news can be a powerful tool to not merely inform people of what is happening; but also to educate them to learn from past experiences. This way I believe the user of Money and Politics would be a lot more skilled to participate effectively. Vulgarization is an element of success. Nevertheless, mere information won't be a base for the changes this group is aiming for.

Also, since their contacts with 'old' media were successful, this should be a strength that should be used. An alliance to publish they data in special editions inside the papers, or more mention of the group and the information they share could cover the population still not too active on internet. The group is clear about the confidence they have in themselves and how they can be useful expanding the tools they work with. This same system seems to be the base of very useful analysis on other cases regarding money invested in politics. They can observe not only campaigns, but also projects already taking place, being another eye checking if the money has been invested as it was planned. Changing to an active observation of media in politics is a very interesting analysis, but this is certainly a point that changes dramatically the dynamics of observation, critique, people participation, and simple vulgarization. Money and politics is already a wide subject, difficult to handle and with great possibilities of expansion. Changing the plans to observe media might move the north elsewhere and prevent an interesting project to grow.


This is a great project. I have a minor suggestion: budget monitoring, or more generally any civil society initiative understood to be around budgets is commonly associated with the analysis and influence of public budgets, ie the goverment's budget that is formulated, approved, executed and evaluated by the government. During all those stages, civil society engagement is critical.

It strikes me that this case study is about political party finance. Without wishing to silo-ise the studies too much, categorise it under 'political parties' might be a useful way to draw linkages with groups working on elections for example, as well as an incentive to located other case studies of groups working around political finance issues.

Shifting Categories

Hi Martin, I can definitely see the difference between government budgeting and political party budgeting from an institutional and analytical perspective, but from a technical perspective the approach of Dinero y Politica is exactly the same as government budget monitoring initiatives such as Our Budget. In fact, both projects use the exact same process: OCR text recognition, data input, and visualization using ManyEyes software. So I think that in terms of sharing technical skills across the network it probably makes sense to keep them categorized this way for now. But, as I just wrote in our concluding post, I have a feeling that categories on the network will continue to shift in the future:

One of the most difficult challenges throughout our research was simply developing a taxonomy to categorize and describe the projects we documented. We recognize that technology for transparency projects might choose to describe themselves and their objectives in language that differs from traditional anti-corruption organizations and the donors that fund them. We believe that categories on the website will always be dynamic and will shift as new projects come online and maturing projects evolve their objectives and strategies.

Maybe multiple categories

The point is well taken, I can see how groups that use technology for transparency may need to be categorised differently as they may use the same technologies across different fields. I am still puzzling about this for 4 reasons though:

(1) We are assuming that dinero y politica and our budget are ‘technology groups’ ie that what defines them is their use of technology for transparency. If that is the case, they may have more in common with each other and thus come under a ‘technical tools to monitor budgets’ category. But what if you had one ‘classic’ political finance group that also happened to use technology (a good thing, that may happen in the future), and a more traditional budget monitoring group that is also using technology (let’s say that MKSS starts using technology in their work) – how do you categories them? By what they are trying to achieve (i.e. cleaning up political party finance, or empowering citizens to have a say in their local government’s budgets? Or by one of the various means they are using to achieve it (the tech side)? IE I think we need to both keep in mind the change that groups are trying to achieve, as well as the tools they use to achieve those aims. Maybe it’s less that the categories themselves are dynamic, and more that the groups are defined three dimensionally: what they are trying to do / how they are trying to do it using non-tech tools/ how they are trying to do it using tech tools?
(2) Having said the above, I would put the ‘classic’ groups vs. ‘technology’ groups distinction aside – it strikes me that all the groups both want to impact change in a particular area (or give people voice in a particular area) as well are concerned with the technology to make this happen. IE all groups are three dimensional.
(3) It may then be useful to define the categories used in the network: ie when we say ‘budgets’, do we mean the ‘technical tools to make budgets (whether government or private) transparent’, ie are we referring to the types of technology that they are using to achieve their goals and not the types of goals that they are aiming to achieve? Then - are the groups classified as ‘private sector’ or ‘extractive industries’ or ‘aid transparency’ in the right boxes? What about a group that monitors aid transparency but uses the same tools as those in the example given above, should it then not be categorised under ‘budgets’?
(4) If the web platform becomes a space where: (1) tech groups that do not work on transparency meet tech for transparency groups, (2)tech for transparency groups learn from one another, (3) non tech groups learn and adopt tech tools, all these taxonomy issues will become key.
(5) All this has led to me to question what a technology for transparency group is. There will be groups whose raison d’etre comes from the tech side, but also others that use technology instrumentally in their work. For example, groups monitoring deforestation in Cameroon that give handheld GPS devices to local communities for them to monitor where the illegal logging is taking place and then put that info on the web. Again, these groups are clearly concerned with deforestation but may also be using technology that is used across other sectors – how do we categorise them? Which brings me back to point 2!

If our key concern is to facilitate groups learning from each other, it strikes me that these issues become key core to our work. A discussion around taxonomies might be a great way to start phase 2.

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