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New Initiative: Open Data for Tax Justice #OD4TJ

- March 2, 2016 in Campaigning, Featured, OD4TJ, Open Data, Open Government Data, Open Knowledge, Our Work, Public Money

OD4TJ Every year countries lose billions of dollars to tax avoidance, tax evasion and more generally to illicit financial flows. According to a recent IMF estimate around $700 billion of tax revenues is lost each year due to profit-shifting. In developing countries the loss is estimated to be around $200 billion, which as a share of GDP represents nearly three times the loss suffered by OECD countries. Meanwhile, economist Gabriel Zucman estimates that certain components of undeclared offshore wealth total above $7 trillion, implying tax losses of $200 billion annually; Jim Henry’s work for TJN suggests the full total of offshore assets may range between $21 trillion and $32 trillion. We want to transform the way that data is used for advocacy, journalism and public policy to address this urgent challenge by creating of a global network of civil society groups, investigative reporters, data journalists, civic hackers, researchers, public servants and others. Today, Open Knowledge and the Tax Justice Network are delighted to announce the launch of a new initiative in this area: Open Data for Tax Justice. We want to initiate a global network of people and organisations working to create, use and share data to improve advocacy and journalism around tax justice. The website is: and using the hashtag #od4tj. The network will work to rally campaigners, civil society groups, investigative reporters, data journalists, civic hackers, researchers, public servants and others; it will aim to catalyse collaborations and forge lasting alliances between the tax justice movement and the open data movement. We have received a huge level of support and encouragement from preliminary discussions with our initial members, and look forward to expanding the network and its activities over the coming months. What is on the cards? We’re working on a white paper on what a global data infrastructure for tax justice might look like. We also want to generate more practical guidance materials for data projects – as well as to build momentum with online and offline events. We will kick off with some preliminary activities at this year’s global Open Data Day on Saturday 5th March. Tax justice will be one of the main themes of the London Open Data Day, and if you’d like to have a go at doing something tax related at an event that you’re going to, you can join the discussion here. OD4TJ members

New Report: “Open Budget Data: Mapping the Landscape”

- September 2, 2015 in digital methods, Featured, financial transparency, issue mapping, open budget data, Open Data, Open Government Data, Policy, Public Money, Releases, research

We’re pleased to announce a new report, “Open Budget Data: Mapping the Landscape” undertaken as a collaboration between Open Knowledge, the Global Initiative for Financial Transparency and the Digital Methods Initiative at the University of Amsterdam. The report offers an unprecedented empirical mapping and analysis of the emerging issue of open budget data, which has appeared as ideals from the open data movement have begun to gain traction amongst advocates and practitioners of financial transparency. In the report we chart the definitions, best practices, actors, issues and initiatives associated with the emerging issue of open budget data in different forms of digital media to navigate this developing field and to identify trends, gaps and opportunities for supporting it. In doing so, our objective is to enable practitioners – in particular civil society organisations, intergovernmental organisations, governments, multilaterals and funders – to navigate this developing field and to identify trends, gaps and opportunities for supporting it. How public money is collected and distributed is one of the most pressing political questions of our time, influencing the health, well-being and prospects of billions of people. Decisions about fiscal policy affect everyone-determining everything from the resourcing of essential public services, to the capacity of public institutions to take action on global challenges such as poverty, inequality or climate change. Digital technologies have the potential to transform the way that information about public money is organised, circulated and utilised in society, which in turn could shape the character of public debate, democratic engagement, governmental accountability and public participation in decision-making about public funds. Data could play a vital role in tackling the democratic deficit in fiscal policy and in supporting better outcomes for citizens. The report includes the following recommendations:
  1. CSOs, IGOs, multilaterals and governments should undertake further work to identify, engage with and map the interests of a broader range of civil society actors whose work might benefit from open fiscal data, in order to inform data release priorities and data standards work. Stronger feedback loops should be established between the contexts of data production and its various contexts of usage in civil society – particularly in journalism and in advocacy.

  2. Governments, IGOs and funders should support pilot projects undertaken by CSOs and/or media organisations in order to further explore the role of data in the democratisation of fiscal policy – especially in relation to areas which appear to have been comparatively under-explored in this field, such as tax distribution and tax base erosion, or tracking money through from revenues to results.

  3. Governments should work to make data “citizen readable” as well as “machine readable”, and should take steps to ensure that information about flows of public money and the institutional processes around them are accessible to non-specialist audiences – including through documentation, media, events and guidance materials. This is a critical step towards the greater democratisation and accountability of fiscal policy.

  4. Further research should be undertaken to explore the potential implications and impacts of opening up information about public finance which is currently not routinely disclosed, such as more detailed data about tax revenues – as well as measures needed to protect the personal privacy of individuals.

  5. CSOs, IGOs, multilaterals and governments should work together to promote and adopt consistent definitions of open budget data, open spending data and open fiscal data in order to establish the legal and technical openness of public information about public money as a global norm in financial transparency.

From Health in the UK to Education in Nigeria – Stop Secret Contracts

- March 24, 2014 in Campaigning, Featured, Open Government Data, Public Money, Stop Secret Contracts

Today it was announced that fraud and error in the UK National Health Service are leading to the loss of around £7 billion each year. This could pay for about 250,000 new nurses, and comes at a time when the service is struggling more than ever under the pressures of austerity. One of the main ways that money is lost is overcharging and underdelivery by contractors. Outsourcing of health provision to unaccountable contractors is becoming increasingly popular in the UK, and it provides fertile ground for fraud and corruption. And the public has no effective means of redress when things go wrong. In Nigeria, civil society groups are being denied access to crucial contracts being drawn up to bring about educational reforms. Nigeria has been found to be the country with the highest number of out-of-school children in the world, and educational reform is undoubtedly needed. But information about the contracts involved is being masked by “commercial sensitivity.” The lack of transparency stifles participation, reducing the likelihood of genuine innovation. An inclusive education system which meets the needs of all Nigerians will not be achieved when the process is shrouded in secrecy. Across the world, contracting is the aspect of government which is most open to abuse. Governments hide behind claims of commercial sensitivity or national security to avoid exposing their contracts to public scrutiny. stopsecretcontracts logo This month we launched our Stop Secret Contracts campaign, calling on world leaders to open up the procurements process. At the most basic level, the contracting data must be made available to the public. This includes:
  1. The full text of contracts;
  2. Key documents such as pre-studies, bid documents, performance evaluations, guarantees, and auditing reports;
  3. Information about contract formation, such as planning process, procurement method, and evaluation criteria;
  4. Information about performance and completion, such as delivery schedules, status of implementation, payments and risk assessments.
But we also want to see stronger commitments towards participation and accountability, as laid out in the Open Government Guide. As contractors play a growing role in the delivery of public services everywhere, we must ensure that we do not lose democratic control over vital aspects of our societies. We need YOU to help us spread the word. We need you to sign the petition so that this issue is taken seriously by the G20 and OGP. Organisations who are working on this crucial problem need to be able to show that many voices are united behind them. Once you’ve signed, there’s more you can do to help. You could write a blog post – like our Bangladesh and Sweden Local Groups have done. You could follow @StopSecretContracts, and retweet interesting and relevant things using #SecretContracts. You could join the Open Contracting Partnership’s community of practice to get more involved with policy conversations. You could start contributing to the C20 Conversations, the civil society engagement process around this year’s G20 in Australia – especially in the governance group. You could check out the list of supporting organisations: if any of them are local to you, why not get in touch and see if you can help them push forward? There’s a whole load of resources available if you’d like to learn more about open contracting and why it matters. The Open Contracting Partnership have produced these Global Principles for Open Contracting, and the Sunlight Foundation has these complementary guidelines for open data in procurements. This report, Publish What You Buy makes the case for openness, and this entry in the Open Government Guide is a great starting point for understanding the issues and the kinds of political commitments we need to see. From next Monday we will be publishing a series of blog posts from different organisations who are supporting the Stop Secret Contracts campaign. If you have stories to share about the problems of secrecy in contracting, get in touch with

What needs to happen to enable citizens to Follow the Money around the world?

- November 22, 2013 in Campaigning, Featured, Open Data, Open Government Data, Public Money, Transparency

The following post is from Alan Hudson, Policy Director (Transparency & Accountability) at ONE and Jonathan Gray, Director of Policy and Ideas at the Open Knowledge Foundation. A few weeks back, we launched a new global “Follow the Money” network of organisations pushing for the transparency needed to enable citizens to hold decision-makers to account for the use of public money. We hope that the network will help organisations working on this agenda to share information about what they’re doing, to develop a shared vision and principles around transparency and open data, and to spot opportunities to collaborate and gaps that need to be filled. To share experience and inform the development of the network, we also organised a “Follow the Money” session at the Open Government Partnership Summit in London, particularly focusing on the needs of campaigners in developing countries.

Participants at “Follow the Money” session at the Open Government Partnership Summit 2013 in London.

After introductions from ONE, the Open Knowledge Foundation and the World Bank’s Robert Hunja (who chaired the session), Seember Nyager from the Public and Private Development Centre in Nigeria spoke about the centre’s work on procurement monitoring. She said while there are laws and tools in place to enable citizens to monitor and report problems with public procurement, these are currently underused and further work is needed to build the capacity of civil society to use them. She said the “Follow the Money” network could help to integrate transparency efforts around revenues, procurement and monitoring. Justin Arenstein from the African Media Initiative presented a range of projects where citizens and journalists have followed the money to flag corruption and the misuse of public funds – from Azerbaijan to Ghana. He argued that transparency work in this area should be demand driven, outcomes based and citizen-focused, and that transparency campaigners should make sure to team up with, support and build on the work of investigative journalists. Rocio Moreno from the Global Movement for Budget Transparency, Accountability and Participation spoke about how to make international work impactful at national level, and how to connect and build on national level work to create global momentum. She argued that the “Follow the Money” network needs to focus on how it can support civil society actors at national level. Martin Tisne from the Omidyar Network responded to the talks arguing that the “Follow the Money” was a good opportunity to enable better cooperation between fiscal transparency advocates and open data advocates. He contended that the volume of information about public money that we potentially have available to us means that campaigners can no longer pore over contracts one at a time, and we need new tools and techniques to follow the money effectively. Also more technical work on standards is needed to enable linking and comparability between different types of data, so that citizens can follow the money from revenue to results. Oluseun Onigbinde from BudgIT in Nigeria concurred that “Follow the Money” efforts should be driven by the needs of citizens, and should serve to amplify the voices and concerns of citizens so that governments listen and respond to them. He also suggested that “Follow the Money” network should have an institutional focus – working to identify, highlight and spread public policies which enable citizens to follow the money. We also discussed possible next steps for the “Follow the Money” network with several of its members, which included: principles to ensure open data is a key requirement in fiscal transparency campaigning; work on data standards and interoperability; mapping activities to explain the different ways that public money flows from revenues to results; further work to highlight fiscal transparency needs of public interest campaigners; national and international campaigning and policy work; and investigations and projects to enable citizens to follow the money in different areas. Overall our sessions and meetings at the Open Government Partnership confirmed that there was strong support and demand for the “Follow the Money” network as a way for advocates to share updates about what they are doing, and to work together more effectively around common goals. We hope that it will contribute towards building a stronger and better connected global fiscal transparency movement. If you’d like to join us, please do head on over to

‘Follow the Money’ with ONE and the Open Knowledge Foundation at the Open Government Partnership

- October 30, 2013 in Campaigning, Featured, Open Data, Open Government Data, Public Money

As the Open Government Partnership summit kicks off, we’re pleased to launch a new website for the emerging ‘Follow the Money’ network,, supported by ONE and the Open Knowledge Foundation. If you’re interested in using information about public money to hold decision-makers to account, then we hope you’ll join us. Fill in your details on the site and we’ll be in touch. At our session at the Open Government Partnership Summit tomorrow we’ll be looking at what we might be able to do to support campaigners who want to ‘follow the money’ around the world – especially in developing countries. The session will be live-streamed (at 15.45 PM GMT, Thursday October 31st) and we’ll be posting further details shortly (for more information about Thursday’s session and the Follow the Money campaign download this fact sheet). In the meantime you can also join the conversation on Twitter with the #followthemoney hashtag.

Detail from

Boots’ £1 billion pound tax dodge shows we need open data on who really owns companies

- October 16, 2013 in Policy, Public Money

Yesterday a group of campaign organisations revealed that Alliance Boots – the British pharmaceutical giant which operates the high street chemists ‘Boots’, and one of the UK’s biggest private companies – avoided over £1.1 billion in tax payments over the past 6 years. Tax avoidance schemes are estimated to cost the UK up to £120 billion every year – a considerable amount when you consider that the total 2012 budget for the UK was £682 billion. As the report says:
If Alliance Boots had not deducted its finance costs, the Treasury would be richer by an estimated £1.12 billion to £1.28 billion. Even taking the lower end of that range, those tax payments could have funded more than two and a half years of total prescription fees for all of England. It is also equivalent to the starting salary of more than 78,000 NHS nurses for a year – roughly 120 additional nurses per parliamentary constituency, and more than the total number of nurses estimated to be cut from the NHS between 2010 and 2015 [...]
In their concluding recommendations, the report’s authors highlight the importance of greater transparency around company ownership and public contracting, which could both help to discourage the kind of aggressive tax avoidance practised by Alliance Boots. They write:
The Government should introduce a rigorous public system of documentation and disclosure of beneficial ownership in the UK and require regulatory reform of the Overseas Territories – such as Gibraltar and the Cayman Islands. [...] Ensuring that a rigorous public register is introduced is vital in order to be able to assess the true beneficiaries of the kinds of related party financial transactions used by Alliance Boots.
We heartily concur with this conclusion. As we’ve said before, we think that registries of who really owns companies around the world should be published as open data. The UK government has a major opportunity to take leadership in this area by making its own registry of beneficial ownership publicly available, and by encouraging other countries to do the same through various international fora, such as the G8, the G20, the OECD and the Open Government Partnership. We’ll be covering developments in this area (or absence thereof!) at the Open Government Partnership Summit in London in a couple of weeks, so watch this space.

Detail from the “Alliance Boots and the Tax Gap” report released yesterday.

Next Steps on “Follow the Money” – from OKCon to the Open Government Partnership Summit

- October 4, 2013 in OKCon, Open Data, Open Government Data, Public Money

The following post is from Alan Hudson, Policy Director (Transparency & Accountability) at ONE and Jonathan Gray, Director of Policy and Ideas at the Open Knowledge Foundation. Last month we announced the Open Knowledge Foundation and ONE’s plans to support and strengthen the community of activists and advocacy organisations working to enable citizens to follow the money and hold decision-makers to account for the use of public money. A few weeks ago at OKCon 2013 we had a brainstorming session with a group of leading financial transparency and open data organisations to define next steps for the collaboration. We had an excellent turnout including many of the key organisations promoting financial transparency such as Development Initiatives, Publish What You Fund, Publish What You Pay, the Revenue Watch Institute, the Sunlight Foundation, the Transparency and Accountability Initiative, and Transparency International. Participants in the session shared their experience of trying to follow the money – the challenges and opportunities – and explored how we might collectively join the dots between various efforts to promote transparency. We talked about creating better data standards so information is easier to connect and compare, sharing resources and information about the flow of public money, and how to ensure that transparency initiatives meet the needs of campaigners pushing for change. The top two priorities identified were as follows. First, mapping the ‘Follow the Money’ space to get a better sense of who is doing what to follow flows of public money from revenue to results, across different sectors and in different countries around the world. Second, doing much more to understand what citizens and civil society organisations need to help them to follow the money and collecting use-cases of how joining the transparency dots will help. We’re currently planning ‘Follow the Money’ activities around the Open Government Partnership Summit in London on 31st October to 1st November, where we will continue the conversation – in particular focusing on the needs of campaigners in developing countries. If you or your organisation are interested in joining us to Follow the Money, you can get in touch via the following form.

“Follow the Money” with ONE and the Open Knowledge Foundation

- September 12, 2013 in Featured, OKCon, Open Data, Public Money

The following post is from Alan Hudson, Policy Director (Transparency & Accountability) at ONE and Jonathan Gray, Director of Policy and Ideas at the Open Knowledge Foundation. We want to see a world in which citizens are able to hold decision-makers to account for the use of public money, using information about where it comes from, how it’s spent and what results it delivers, to drive improvements in service delivery and accelerate progress against poverty. To this end, ONE and the Open Knowledge Foundation are excited to share the news about our plans to support and strengthen the community of activists and advocacy organisations pushing for the transparency that is needed if citizens around the world are to be able to follow the money.

The Challenge: Building a Better Connected Global Financial Transparency Movement

The number of organisations and initiatives working to enhance transparency about the use of public money is growing. There are various focal points for that activity, covering different stages of the flow of public money – from resource availability (tax, aid, extractives and illicit financial flows), to resource allocation (budgets and contracts) to results (inc. in particular sectors). This focused work is essential, but following the money requires that people can track public money throughout the flow of resources. Put simply, there is a need to smash the silos that too often separate various transparency initiatives around the world, focusing on different aspects of financial transparency. Furthermore, there is a need for the emerging fiscal transparency movement to ensure that transparency gains are translated into improved accountability and service delivery. To enable this, we need to make sure that the data that is made available as a result of transparency wins is usable, used and proves to be useful. And, we need to join the dots – creating a better connected global fiscal transparency movement that supports more effective collaboration between organisations and individuals working in this space. To help to join the dots, in the first instance we plan to do four things:
  • Firstly, we will identify and bring together organisations and individuals that are keen, and have the capacity, to work together to join the dots in the fiscal transparency space, to start talking about ways in which we might be able to work together more effectively.
  • Secondly, we will work with those organisations to develop a shared vision and a set of principles that are key to achieving that vision, with input from a network of organisations who are committed to promoting them around the world and across different sectors.
  • Thirdly, we develop a campaign to promote the principles that need to be in place to support citizens’ efforts to follow the money.
  • Finally, we will identify opportunities for specific activities that participating organisations might pursue. These might be at the international level (e.g. through the G20), in the north (e.g. as regards EU Anti-Money Laundering legislation), in the south (e.g. through in-country Follow the Money campaigns), or, better still, across multiple levels using local learning to influence international policy processes.

What’s Next?

We’re holding a session to discuss plans for the Follow the Money initiative at OKCon 2013 in Geneva, on Wednesday 18th September, 10:30-11:30 (in Room 8, Floor 2 at the Centre International de Conférences Genève – CICG). Due to limited space, if you’re interested in joining us please email We’re also planning various activities around the Open Government Partnership Summit in the UK later this autumn – so watch this space! If you or your organisation are interested in joining us, you can get in touch via the following form.

OKCon 2013 Guest Post: Open governance groups around the world compare local authority finances

- September 10, 2013 in OKCon, Public Money

This article, by Marc Joffe and Ian MakGill, originally appeared on the Guardian website on 01 August 2013. Marc Joffe will be speaking in the Open Finance and OpenSpending – Workshop on Wednesday 18 September, 14:45 – 16:00 @ Room 7, Floor 2.
Open governance groups around the world compare local authority finances Council finances are being compared for greater transparency, but a lack of standardised data is holdings things back. We built a website in the US that maps the finances and credit scores of 260 Californian cities. You can click on a town and find out about their revenues and expenditure, debt levels and even retirement plans for staff. California City Credit Scoring The California fiscal transparency project is one example of how open governance initiatives are increasingly being used to compare local authorities, accessing their spending priorities and financial conditions. A similar site exists in Denmark and one will launch in Israel shortly using a new open source software platform. However, projects like this that compare authorities finances face a number of challenges – many of which arise from a lack of standardised, machine-readable data. While corporate financial data analysis is aided by the XBRL standard, there is no analogous standard in the realm of government financial reporting. Our work on California required us to locate and extract data from audited financial reports filed by each city. In virtually all cases, these reports were stored in pdf files, and completing this project required a lot of manual inputting. We got the best results by selecting portions of the pdf to convert within the software. So, would something like this be possible in England? The raw material for such a project is available in abundance. Local councils in England are required to publish audited financial accounts, and typically do so in pdf form. Tax receipts, investments and borrowing data for all councils are published in Excel format by the Department for Communities and Local Government. But it is not certain whether these statistics tie out to the audited financial reports. In California, we found widespread inconsistencies between audited financial reports and standardised data collected by the state controller’s office. The Chartered Institute for Public Finance and Accounts also collects and standardises council financial data, but they sell their compilations for several hundred pounds. The UK is significantly ahead of the US in the area of reporting transactions. In the UK, councils are required to publish all transactions above £500; some voluntarily report smaller transactions. The only problem is that there are varying interpretations of what data is being completed in each field and inconsistency in data formats and field headers. Although transaction reports are supposed to be issued monthly, some councils publish them less frequently. While most councils provide their spending data in machine readable formats, others only provide pdfs. We sent a freedom of information request to East Riding council, asking them to publish their data in comma separated variable (CSV) format instead but the council refused on the basis that the data in the new format might be used fraudulently. Some of the local government transaction data has been aggregated on the Open Knowledge Foundation’s global Open Spending project and at Openly Local. City councils in the US and the UK both publish budgets which include estimates of future spending. In our California project, we initially excluded budgets because budget reporting formats are less consistent than those used in audits (since the latter are governed by accounting standards). However, because budgets are forward looking, citizens find them more interesting. As a result, they have been the focus of the Denmark effort as well as many individual city-level transparency projects such as Open Oakland. In California, the impetus for developing our transparency site was a desire to provide an alternative to credit ratings for assessing the likelihood of municipal bond defaults. In recent years, the state has had a number of high-profile bankruptcies, so investors may require greater transparency before purchasing bonds issued by California cities. We meet this need by running city financial statistics through an open source credit scoring model. UK councils have not accessed the capital markets, but that could be about to change. Before becoming reliant on the credit rating agencies, local leaders may wish to build a transparency platform like the one in California.
Marc Joffe is the principal consultant at Public Sector Credit Solutions and Ian Makgill is the managing director of the Spend Network.

Beneficial ownership registries should be published as open data

- August 21, 2013 in Campaigning, Featured, Open Data, Open Government Data, Policy, Public Money

In the coming months many governments around the world will decide whether databases of who really owns and controls companies should be made public or not. As we’ve said before, we think registers of ‘beneficial ownership‘ (i.e. registers of who really stands to benefit from company ownership, not just whomever it is convenient or expedient to list) should be published as open data. We call on open data and transparency advocates around the world to join us in asking their governments to take action on this issue, and to push for concrete commitments to publish registries of beneficial ownership publicly, as open, machine readable databases.

A visualisation of legal entities that are part of the same corporate grouping from OpenCorporates

Who gets to see who really owns companies?

In June G8 countries committed to cracking down on hidden company ownership. The Lough Erne Declaration and principles to prevent the misuse of companies from the G8 both allude to better information sharing between tax authorities, and state that tax collectors, law enforcers, financial intelligence units, and financial institutions should be able to access information on who really owns companies. But what about the rest of us? Shouldn’t journalists, campaigners and citizens have access to information about who really owns companies – in order to investigate illicit and unfair behaviour and to push for change?

The advantages of public registries

We think that there are many advantages to having public registries of beneficial ownership information. Firstly, public registries would enable the media and civil society to hold companies to account – by helping them to identify corruption and illicit activity. Secondly, studies by the UK, the EU and Global Witness suggest that public registries would be significantly more cost effective than the status quo. Thirdly, public registries will impose no additional administrative burden on companies – entailing only small modifications to existing processes.

Making them public is not enough – they must be published as open data

For registries of beneficial ownership to have maximum impact, we think it is essential that they are published as machine readable open databases. Users of the data must be able to analyse the data and to easily cross reference and combine datasets from different sources. Hence it is essential that they are machine readable, and available for downloading in bulk (as per the Open Definition), rather than published as non-machine-readable documents or through a search interface which limits querying. Furthermore the data should be openly licensed to enable people to use it, republish it, and combine it with other datasets. We think is essential if we are to gradually piece together a shared, collaborative ecosystem of data about companies and their activity around the world.

Now is time to act

There are several major opportunities to make progress on this issue in the coming months:
  • The UK currently has an open consultation on beneficial ownership (closing 16th September 2013), which explicitly asks for views on whether the registry should be made public. If you’re in the UK and want to see the registry being made public as open data, we strongly encourage you to respond with arguments and evidence about why this matters. If the UK commits to making registries public, then it is much more likely that other countries will follow.
  • The EU is also in the process of updating and improving its Anti Money Laundering Directive, which represents a major opportunity to increase transparency of beneficial ownership in Europe.
  • For the Open Government Partnership partner countries, the Open Government Partnership Summit this autumn will provide an opportune moment for governments to announce their commitments to public registries of beneficial ownership. We hope to see as many governments and civil society organisations as possible coming out in support of public registries, published in accordance with open data principles.
You’ll be hearing more from us on this issue in the coming weeks and months, so watch this space! If you’re interested in discussing this with us, you can join our public openspending list.