This project is a series of articles, data visualization, and open data about unexplained surplus on campaign funds.
In Japan, all members of the Parliament must report income and expenditure in their campaign funds. However, when they have surplus as a result of income more than expenditure, they have no obligation to report the usage of the surplus.
We investigated documents submitted by House of Representatives (lower house in Japan) members, and published all the data and source code for further coverages from other newsrooms.
The most important impact of this project is that it revealed a large amount of surplus on campaign funds remains unexplained and unreported.
We investigated documents on the 2014 election submitted by House of Representatives members. While some members appropriately reported the usage of their surplus, 268 members, nearly 6 in 10 of the total, have not disclosed how they spent the surplus.
The total amount is approximately 950 million Yen ($8.7 million US) and the maximum is 27 million Yen ($251,000 US). Even some Members of the Cabinet have not disclosed usage of the surplus.
This project contains articles to explain issues on related laws, and an interactive data visualization, where readers can quickly see trends in each political party or region and detailed balances of individual members. As a result, some Members of the Diet admitted that the treatment of surplus was not appropriate and revised their campaign income / expenditure report.
The data was collected manually from the Election Administration Commissions of each prefecture in Japan. Reporters covered House of Representatives members when their usage of surplus were unexplained.
All the data was converted into JSON file and visualized on a special website. P5.js was used to draw bubble charts, Chart.js was used to draw pie charts, and Japanmap.js was used to draw Japan prefectures map.
Since the purpose of this project is not to denounce someone but to cast doubt on the current system, the special page was designed with subdued colors and tones.
What was the hardest part of this project?
The hardest part of this project was how to facilitate further investigations by other newsrooms, using open data.
Conventionally, in Japan, it has not been usual for multiple news organizations to work together on a certain project. However, we consider that it is necessary to have additional coverages from other newsrooms, such as the same issue on regional council or governor, to make a real impact on society.
In order to achieve this goal, we published all the data and source code we gained and created through this project, on GitHub and LinkData, a platform to publish open data in Japan. Perhaps this is the first time in Japan that data obtained as a result of investigation was published as standard open data. We facilitated other journalists to use this data through events explaining how to use this data.
As a result, several magazines and newspapers reported on this topic. For instance, Kumanichi, a local newspaper located in the southern part of the Kyushu region, reported this issue on the headline, using this data and focusing on local members of the parliament.
What can others learn from this project?
What other newsrooms and journalists can learn from this project is that publishing data gained through an investigation may enhance the impact of the coverage on our society. This project would be less impressive if we had not published the data and source code. Collaboration with designers and engineers, such as creating data visualization, is an effective way to spread these open data projects.