Conrad Fox

Adding up all those little receipts at the Mexican Congress

May 20, 2015

Given all the violence we read about in Mexico, there's something comforting and familiar to see they have expense scandals too. While other media plaster their headlines with the nota roja, three Mexico City journalists have taken the harder route, picking through reams of receipts and invoices from the country's Chamber of Deputies and Senate and reporting on what doesn't add up. As Lado B reports, the website was started last year by the trio who were concerned that, while there were many organizations tracing the progress of bills through the house, analyzing negotiations and even fissures within parties, no one was systematically tracking what they were spending. With few resources themselves, they began requesting receipts from both chambers that politicians had handed in for reimbursement. They painstakingly entered them into a database and then reported on the findings online (anyone familiar with the level of detail on a Mexican factura knows how time consuming this is). The site features colourful piecharts breaking down expenses by type, beneficiary and politician, as well as rankings of the biggest spenders.

What have they found? A whole lot of liquor soaked receipts spent between the hours of 3 and 4 in the morning, a charge for a $4000.00MXN spa, and a $600.00MXN motel of ill repute. "Why are we (tax payers) paying this when they already earn so much money," Israel PiƱa, one of the journalists involved, told Lado B. Bigger ticket items get individual write ups on the website, including the Top Five Little Luxuries the deputies bought themselves last year, among them a bronze statue in the foyer of the chamber, a carpet in a room nobody uses and a $92 million peso electronic display that tracks attendance in the chamber. But it's the less glamorous items that are the most striking result all this leg work. discovered, for example, that the Chamber of Deputies bill for photocopying services increase 68% from the year before (to $12 million pesos).

You might think that itself is at fault for the increase, after requesting so many copies of receipts, but in fact those do not come free. The reporters are charged 50 cents a copy, which strains their already limited budget. And they can't get a receipt for it, because the Chamber doesn't give them out. They don't have the staff, they say.

Read the original story in Spanish, Lado B.

I'm a journalist, producer, instructional designer and developer. I've reported from a minefield and a dugout canoe, taught radio journalism, robotics, and anthropology in board rooms, lecture halls and mud huts, led award-winning media projects, and mentored dozens of journalists in Canada and Latin America. I run a small media production company specialized in education and the environment called Studio Canek.

Digital storytelling

Conrad Fox is one of the best editors I've ever worked with. His professionalism, his journalistic sensibility and his skill at teaching enrich the editor-reporter experience

Mely Arellano

Founder / Editor Lado B magazine, Mexico