Every year Russian public officials and politicians elected as deputies declare their assets. Some of them appear to earn millions of dollars though being prohibited to have business. Asset declarations are published in tables that can hardly be discovered in the governmental websites by common people who nevertheless appear to be very interested with the officials’ skyrocketing earnings. Moreover, every office publish their declarations separately and in different forms which also doesn’t facilitate access to this data either.
In 2018, RBC.Ru published profound analysis of these declarations. Starting from April 13, when the declarations of the presidential administration, federal government and parliament members were published, we analysed them, showing those deputies and officials who earned millions of dollars during 2017 (which is far more than their wages) and asking how had this become possible. We’ve learned for example that the Plenipotentiary Envoy of the President Alexander Khloponin had earned almost 3 bln rubles ($44.4 mln) in 2017 selling his villa in Italy (https://www.rbc.ru/politics/14/04/2018/5ad0ef219a79470dbf5fa038). We made a visualization of the gap between government ministers’ wages and their earnings (www.rbc.ru/economics/14/04/2018/5ad0b2d19a79474fca5fa036).
What makes this project innovative?
The two most sophisticated pieces of the declaration investigation were the analysis of the regional deputies earnings and of the incomes declared by the top-management of the universities that are funded by the government. To conduct them, we monitored every parliament website for changes every day with the help of the Visualping. Than we created a database in Spreadsheets. Some of the declarations were published in Excel tables, some - in Word documents, some in tables in the PDF format and some - in scanned documents. In the Spreadsheets we united all the declarations (deputies and university officials separately) in a chosen standard way. ABBYY Screenshot Reader and ABBYY FineReader were used to work with the PDF documents. Some documents were scanned so badly they hardly could be read with the OCR software. Those documents were manually included into the database. The the two datasets were analysed in the Spreadsheets to detect those who earned most. RBC is the only newsroom in Russia that analyzes rectors declaration. For three years in a row we’ve been making public compilation of the scattered data on their earnings. In 2018 the data on the deputies income was compiled first time ever and that allowed to see the regional politicians from a new perspective. In fact, we’ve made this data public first ever. Why does that matter? Every of the 85 Russian regions has its regional parliament. Every parliament publish declarations in different time. Some of the elected deputies are granted an allowance while most of them don’t (latest work pro bono and are not prohibited to have other job or make business). While analyzing the declarations we jumped to the conclusion that some of the elected politicians didn’t earn money enough for living and live below the poverty line, and others are superrich. Some of them appeared to have competing interests in the regional governments. We published the results of the investigation on May 17th - in two days after the last declaration was published. That became possible cause of the instant monitoring and pre-made database design. The database was appended every time a new declaration appeared and all in all the investigation took less resource than if it was conducted manually. We detected those deputies that were below the poverty line in the moment their declaration appeared online and received a possibility to ask their press offices beforehand how that could be even possible. The same holds true for the richest deputies. That resulted in a very fast and effective work of the editorial team. The article can be found online https://www.rbc.ru/politics/17/05/2018/5af9a5af9a7947c085d06ab0. Speaking on the richest top-management of the state-funded universities, we used the very same technology. We checked more than a hundred universities websites in the same manner described above. We found out that some universities violate declaration regulation and asked them to publish the documents after the deadline for the publication. The richest rector appeared to be the head of the Vladimir Putin’s election campaign team (https://www.rbc.ru/politics/01/06/2018/5b0fd4619a794760626f7a05), others are affiliated with the president’s administration and certain ministers. We also showed that most educational top-managers earn far more than their university wages. Some rectors appeared to work in business as well as in the universities.
What was the impact of your project? How did you measure it?
The whole project (14 articles published from April 13 to June 1 2018) has about 2.2 bln views by April 2019 and was cited in hundreds of other mass media, gaining audience of millions of people. That shows that the assets declaration arouse vivid interest among the audience.
Source and methodology
Data sources: websites of the president administration, government itself and each goverment body, universities websites, websites of parliaments in 85 Russian regions, websites of the upper and the lower houses of the Federal Parliament. Methodology: monitoring website changes with VisualPing, creating a dataset in the Google Spreadsheets, that analisys in Spreadsheets.
VisualPing, Google Spreadsheets. OCR software to work with the scanned declarations: ABBYY Screenshot Reader and ABBYY FineReader. Visualizations made in the Adobe Illustrator, the MS Excel and Tableau with post-processing in the AI.
Data: Dada Lyndell, Sonya Savina Editing: Vladimir Dergachyov, Eugenia Kuznetsova, Natalia Galimova, Sofia Sardzhveladze, Julia Starostina, Anna Mogilevskaya, Elizaveta Antonova, Maxim Solopov, Polina Zvezdina Design: Alexandr Bogachev, Eugeniy Tarasenko, Damir Yanayev, Eugeniy Nikolaev Producing: Julia Sapronova