Checking hundreds of thousands of documents against each of the MP’s own social media posts provided a powerful tool in revealing elected representatives’ misuse and cheating with tax money.
To now, four MPs have been forced to resign from assignments due to the exposé and one MP left her party but kept her place in the parliament. Deductions have been or will be made from ten MPs’ parliamentary fees with up to SEK 300,000. One member’s tax base was reassessed upwards by SEK 133,000.
A preliminary investigation was initiated against five members for suspected fraud – which has never previously occurred in Sweden. Accordingly, “Receipts of Power” was historic, not only in its innovative method, use of social media and concept, but also in its scope, number of revelations and consequences.
What makes this project innovative?
The Receipts of Power concept emerged in the run-up to the 2018 election. Aftonbladet’s investigative team sought to examine how all MPs and deputies had used taxpayer funds over the past term of office. We decided to review all travel accounts submitted by politicians to parliament. However, as information on travel accounts can be relatively scant, we realized we needed to check them against other sources. We quickly realized the most powerful tool would be comparing against MP’s own social media posts. Accordingly, we checked all MPs social media posts against their disclosures to parliament through the receipts they submitted. Checking hundreds of thousands of documents against each of the MP’s own social media posts provided a powerful tool in revealing elected representatives’ misuse and cheating with tax money. We had to check the documents by hand, scan them, and then make them searcable in a database before we compared them with the post in social media, using several social media search tools. The research took three investigative reporters almost five months. Aftonbladet’s investigative team went on using the same method and investigated how the MPs were reimbursed for their overnight apartments in Stockholm - which revealed misuse and cheating with tax money as well. The method became a powerful tool in revealing elected representatives’ misuse and made it an innovative and groundbreaking project in Sweden.
What was the impact of your project? How did you measure it?
The results were overwhelming.
To date, the exposé has had around 10,000,000 page views at aftonbladet.se and a single article has had up to 30 000 interactions on Facebook.
The first item was published on August 21, 2018. Since then, some 80 articles have been published and a large number of television features were broadcast in August, September, October, November, December, January, February and March 2019. With criminal investigations still ongoing, publication continues as this is being written.
The revelations attracted tremendous attention and dominated the news for several weeks, both before and after the election. In the first two days, two MPs resigned in less than 24 hours.
More or less all Swedish media covered the exposé and it was also written about in several other European countries.
To date in april 2019, four MPs have been forced to resign from assignments due to the exposé and MP has left her party.
The investigation revealed a systematic error, an absence of proper controls in Sweden’s highest decision-making body.
The revelations became an issue on which all party leaders agreed: checks on MPs had to be tightened.
A preliminary investigation was initiated against five members for suspected fraud – which has never previously occurred in Sweden.
In 2019, the parliament will, as a result of “Receipts of Power”, review a number of different payments to members.
The parliament will also examine all cases revealed by Aftonbladet.
For Aftonbladet it is one of the most impactful projects since the newspaper was founded in 1830.
Source and methodology
The project was done on the basis of constitutional provisions on freedom of information in Sweden. We went through hundreds of thousands of documents by hand at the parliament - and then scanned them and made them searchable in a database. That was our main source for our project. We then compared the documents with the MP´s own postings on social media, such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, to find discrepancies. The innovative method revealed elected representatives’ misuse and cheating with tax money. We also collected all the MPs different expenses in an extensive Microsoft Excel-file, which made it easier to compare the different MPs to each other.
For scanning: Adobe Acrobat Reader For statistics: Microsoft Exel For social media research: Crowdtangle, Stalkscan.com, metapicz.com, graph.tips, snradar.azurwebsites.net For online research: Wayback machine For online publishing: SMP Creation Suite, which is our company´s own developed publishing tool For online publishing: Escenic For video editing: Adobe Premiere For video editing: After Effects For photo editing: Adobe Photoshop For video publishing: Stream
Mattias Sandberg, reporter Richard Aschberg, reporter Anders Johansson, reporter Jonathan Jeppsson, news director. Martin Schori, investigative editor Petter Svensson, tv-editor Jimmie Wixtröm, photographer Peter Wixtröm, photographer Andres Bardell, photographer Jerker Ivarsson, photographer Lotter Fernvall, photographer Karl Novalli, digital editor Victor Lindbom, digital editor Sofia Boström, digital layout.