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Newspaper Crowdsources 700,000-Page Investigation of MP Expenses 188

Posted by timothy
from the would-like-to-see-this-for-the-us-federal-budget dept.
projector writes with an interesting project from the UK: "The Guardian are crowd-sourcing the investigation of 700,000 pages of UK MPs' expenses data. Readers are being invited to categorize each document, transcribe the handwritten expenses details into an online form and alert the newspaper if any claims merit further investigation. 'Some pages will be covering letters, or claim forms for office stationery. But somewhere in here is the receipt for a duck island. And who knows what else may turn up. If you find something which you think needs further attention, simply hit the button marked "investigate this!" and we'll take a closer look.'"
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Newspaper Crowdsources 700,000-Page Investigation of MP Expenses

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  • by ammit (1485755) <fizzgiggy@googlemail.com> on Friday June 19, 2009 @04:56AM (#28386855)
    But I'm pretty sure that almost ANYONE in their shoes would have done the same...it's called the human condition. You are given the power to abuse something and you think nobody will notice....so you do. Flame away but i probably would have.
  • This bodes well (Score:1, Insightful)

    by BadAnalogyGuy (945258) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Friday June 19, 2009 @05:00AM (#28386877)

    Two things about crowdsourcing:

    1) It is terribly efficient.

    2) It solicits input from the public.

    Interestingly enough, neither of those are directly related to truth.

  • by uglyduckling (103926) on Friday June 19, 2009 @05:00AM (#28386879) Homepage
    Yup, and the job of those who oversee and regulate these things is to prevent abuse, so that the same rules that apply when I fill out my tax forms apply to the people that devise the laws that underpin that tax form.
  • by BadAnalogyGuy (945258) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Friday June 19, 2009 @05:02AM (#28386891)

    This is exactly the reason why campaign contributions and contributors should be made public.

  • by ammit (1485755) <fizzgiggy@googlemail.com> on Friday June 19, 2009 @05:06AM (#28386915)
    There is a saying "who will guard the guards". Nobody apparently.
  • by freedom_india (780002) on Friday June 19, 2009 @05:18AM (#28386959) Homepage Journal

    Why don't our corporate controlled, drug-addled newspapers act like their British counterparts?
    Ours is a direct republic, so in theory, our press must be more active in exposing the illegal, false and corrupt expense accounts of the numerous Ted Stevens clones that walk the same halls that Lincoln and Jackson walked.
    Why don't our media have a daily expose show at 7 PM detailing the latest claims our diseased congressmen and senators claim as expenses?
    British press is so Cool!

  • Duck Islands (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CmdrGravy (645153) on Friday June 19, 2009 @05:20AM (#28386969) Homepage

    As it happens though the claim for the duck island does not appear in the official expenses data as it's blacked out along with, I would guess, almost anything else likely to cause embarrassment for the MP.

    Apparently once the fees office had blacked out the bits they didn't think the public should see the MPs had several months to look at their own claims and recommend any other sections they didn't think should be public so when you look at the actual claims, and some MPs are much worse than others, there is an awful lot you can't see.

    What really pisses me off is the string of MPs saying

    "Well my claim was completely within the rules and I have done nothing wrong however I now realise the rules were horribly wrong and fundamentally flawed so what we need to do is change the rules to make them stricter."

    No ! What you need to do is behave in an honest and honourable fashion and not try to screw the system for as much as you think you can get away with.

  • by routerl (976394) on Friday June 19, 2009 @05:27AM (#28387011)

    But I'm pretty sure that almost ANYONE in their shoes would have done the same...it's called the human condition. You are given the power to abuse something and you think nobody will notice....so you do. Flame away but i probably would have.

    Categorize this as flaming if you wish, but that is exactly the kind of reasoning unscrupulous people use to justify continuing violation of moral and legal conventions. Other variations include but are not limited to "don't hate the player, hate the game" and "screw or be screwed". All amount to the same thing, and all are inexcusable. Believe it or not, the majority of people entrusted with power over the lives of others live up to the minimal expectation that this trust will not be broken. The word that describes this is integrity, and no amount of fallacious reasoning will erase the fact that you lack it.

  • Waste of time? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Xest (935314) on Friday June 19, 2009 @05:29AM (#28387025)

    Anyone who has seen the expenses will know that the important stuff is all blanked out.

    There are pages that are entirely black in there.

    There are pages that say things like:

    "Dear xx, here is your invoice of £2,500 for the following work:" ...and then everything below it blanked out.

    The BBC had a copy of Gordon Brown's uncensored expenses document and compared it to the official version. The uncensored version said "£99.00 Sky TV", the censored version just said "£99.00".

    The whole thing is a farce, we need to get the uncensored version - there was suggestion yesterday the Telegraph who obtained the leaked uncensored versions would release them to the public today but I've heard nothing more since.

    There are some gems in the official version, under MP Ian Cawsey's expenses I noticed he'd sponsored a local football team £300, and then charged the tax payer for that sponsorship via the expenses system, but I feel if we start this now we'll only need to start right over when we do finally get hold of the uncensored version.

    I suppose there's an argument finding breaches in the official release will allow us to apply more pressure to get the uncensored version though maybe? I'd have thought people's time would be better spent actually pressuring for the release though of the uncensored versions overall and then do something like this.

    Still, good work to the Guardian for working with what we have at least, you can't fault them for that.

  • by anarchyboy (720565) on Friday June 19, 2009 @05:30AM (#28387029)
    Except for the large number of MPs that didn't claim for everything under the sun. So apparently not everyone would have or did feel the need to steal everything that isn't bolted down.
  • by jabithew (1340853) on Friday June 19, 2009 @05:47AM (#28387111)

    Hardly. This is a set of expenses paid for by the taxpayers, and we have also had to pay to have it censored before it was released. Ostensibly this was for privacy, but it was more likely to hide the shame of our MPs. Some of the most unforgivable expenses-laundering (flipping the status of primary and secondary residences to avoid capital gains tax and to gain a property portfolio at our expense) is hidden in the official release. In the meantime the Telegraph got a hold of the unredacted claims a month before now through a leak.

    Also, the Guardian's claim that there's a receipt for a duck-house in there is false, as that claim was rejected and no rejected claims have been released officially. Arguably this is no great omission, but to see what MPs have tried and failed to claim for illuminates their sense of entitlement.

  • Re:one problem (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jabithew (1340853) on Friday June 19, 2009 @05:59AM (#28387165)

    MPs salary, pension and expenses are exempt from tax [private-eye.co.uk], unlike standard practice in the private sector. Everyone's first home is free from capital gains tax, MPs just allowed themselves to claim a home was their secondary residence for expenses purposes and then claim it was a primary residence for tax purposes, occasionally at the same time [wikipedia.org].

    Exempting themselves from the tax system is a good sign of tyranny, not to mention hypocrisy.

  • by ionix5891 (1228718) on Friday June 19, 2009 @06:10AM (#28387233)

    British press is so Cool!

    you obviously never seen The Sun or the Daily Mail

  • Re:This bodes well (Score:3, Insightful)

    by sumdumass (711423) on Friday June 19, 2009 @06:16AM (#28387273) Journal

    The efficiency can be negated by an attack of tagging for further investigations.

    This is especially true if the object is to stall for time,- Lets say to keep the results hidden until after the election. It also carries the problem of the people/public getting bored waiting for results. American politicians are famous for this. They leak that something less then honorable took place, Initially dodge the questions on it, then finally release more and more information until such time it can be discovered independent of the leak source. By then, it's out in the open and they say "oh, that again, how many time do I have to pay for a mistake" and walk away pretty much intact.

  • by itsdapead (734413) on Friday June 19, 2009 @07:00AM (#28387491)

    Flame away but i probably would have.

    Would have what?

    Claimed 39p for a Mars Bar - or continued to claim hundreds of pounds a month for interest on a mortgage that no longer existed? Claimed that you needed to subscribe to such-and-such magazine as part of your job, or played complex second home/primary residence "flipping" shenanigans in order to get both nicely tricked out at taxpayers' expense - but then tell a different story to the revenue when it came to capital gains tax?

    Thing is, when the Telegraph got their original leaked, uncensored information, they did a masterful job of padding out the really serious stuff with lots of trivia. What you say is true of much of the trivia - if you can claim it, why not? But the big money stuff is not excusable.

    Bear in mind that this is the same administration that is putting out the "No Ifs, No Buts" adverts telling the "little people" claiming state benefit exactly how hard the book will be thrown at them if they are not scrupulously honest.

    The annoying thing is that the fallout from this is probably going to be a bureaucracy-laden system that costs the taxpayers 100 quid for every 50 quid claimed and lots of silly regulations that will trickle down to everybody else who ever claims expenses.

  • by fedtmule (614169) on Friday June 19, 2009 @07:10AM (#28387549)
    I am with you on this one. Especially, since the bad behavior had decades to build up. What I do not get, is why the British don't just pay the MPs a fixed amount for the expense of maintaining an extra home. If they use less, they stuff it untaxed in their pocket. If they use more, they take it nondeductible from their pocket. Seems fair to me. After all, if you want your second home to be a small castle, should you not pay for it yourself? I have heard about this case, only from our local reporters (a live in Denmark, Scandinavia) and they talked of different remedies proposed. And all I could here, was more and more bureaucracy. And sure, in the beginning this is going to work. Especially, since politicians are scared shirtless now. But in 30-40 years, when the case is almost forgotten and the bureaucrats have gotten lazy, they are going to have similar scandal again.
  • by ShieldW0lf (601553) on Friday June 19, 2009 @07:26AM (#28387623) Journal
    You are entirely right with what you say, but it simply does not and will not change the fact that this is reality, deal with it.

    People like you are the justification for the behavior of countries like North Korea. When someone else deals with it for you, you never end up liking it in the end...
  • by L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) on Friday June 19, 2009 @07:38AM (#28387697)
    What [theregister.co.uk] about [theregister.co.uk] the [theregister.co.uk] Register? [theregister.co.uk]

    The Register is the IT version of The Sun; A Red Top tabloid.
  • by ettlz (639203) on Friday June 19, 2009 @07:50AM (#28387771) Journal
    Now hang on, you forgot The Sport!
  • The Register (Score:3, Insightful)

    by YourExperiment (1081089) on Friday June 19, 2009 @07:55AM (#28387803)

    The Register is the IT version of The Sun; A Red Top tabloid.

    Not quite. The Register deliberately copies several traits from the tabloids. The red masthead is the most obvious of these. They also use a lot of slang, and run plenty of trashy comedy stories. However, these are always reported in a very cynical and/or tongue-in-cheek fashion, not at all like the crap you read in newspapers like The Sun.

    What's more, when it comes to their tech-related articles (the majority of their output) they often publish some very interesting pieces of investigative journalism. They put out some slightly dodgy op-ed occasionally, they don't always nail their stories, and their copy editing is poor (rarely a story without a typo) but overall the site is an entertaining, and usually highly informative, read.

  • by anarchyboy (720565) on Friday June 19, 2009 @08:23AM (#28388067)
    Yes to be honest the amount of tax payers money being wasted on these kinds of expenses is nothing compared to the millions and millions being spent on things like identity cards the god awfull new NHS computer system and nuclear weapons. I would have no problem with MPs being paid much more if they actually did their jobs properly, it would probably end up cheaper.
  • by m.ducharme (1082683) on Friday June 19, 2009 @09:07AM (#28388545)

    Every paper in the US is the Sun or the Daily Mail. Actually, I retract that, they're not that bad, but very few people read them anymore. Everyone in the US get's their news from the TV. Every news broadcast is the Sun or the Daily Mail.

  • by TapeCutter (624760) * on Friday June 19, 2009 @11:31AM (#28390611) Journal
    Yep, and why should we give a fuck about their privacy when they obviously don't give a rat's arse about ours.
  • by drsmithy (35869) <drsmithy@gma i l . c om> on Friday June 19, 2009 @11:32AM (#28390625)

    What I do not get, is why the British don't just pay the MPs a fixed amount for the expense of maintaining an extra home.

    What I do not get, is why the public are paying for an extra home in the first place. Even more so for buyng a second home vs renting one.

    I have heard about this case, only from our local reporters (a live in Denmark, Scandinavia) and they talked of different remedies proposed. And all I could here, was more and more bureaucracy.

    Here's a simple solution: don't pay for a second home at all. If politicians need somewhere to stay during work-related trips, put them up in a damn hotel for the duration. Alternatively, for places where large numbers of politicians frequently gather (ie: parliament) take out some long-term leases on nearby serviced apartments.

    I cannot even begin to comprehend the thinking behind the idea that taxpayers should be funding anyone's second home. I find it incomprehensible that everyone is arguing about the semantics of first vs second home, without even taking a second to think about the fundamental principle.

  • Re:Waste of time? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 20, 2009 @04:38AM (#28400165)

    I think letting them have someone water their plants for them is fine since it allows some people to get a job watering his plants. And in the grand scheme of things, if he's doing something productive instead of watering his plants, we'll probably get more than £21 out of him.

    Now, getting a brand new TV or fancy new shoes or a Ferrari, I can't agree to that. Some things are fine because they save time and allow them to do more important things. Other things are just wasting time in more expensive ways. Why get a...I dunno, 100 inch tv when you're more than satisfied by something half the size? Getting a bigger tv doesn't make you more productive. Neither does getting a faster car when the roads are gridlocked, or a priceless work of art in your bathroom.

    The problem I see with this is that a lot of people will start crying out for wasteful spending in things that are really not all that wasteful. If an MP asks for a £500 for a brand new top of the line cell phone, that's wasteful. If an MP asks for £100 for a cell phone because their cell phone that they do business on broke down...that's not so wasteful. The problem with crowdsourcing is that the mob can get loud, angry, and stupid sometimes. But that might be what's needed with a few of these folks.

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