The interview starts with Sam outlining how the documentary about Eliot Spitzer, called Client 9, got him interested in corruption and how it inspired him to study an MA in corruption research at the University of Sussex.
Sam describes the research questions he sought to answer with his dissertation on party financing and corruption. Namely, he unpicks the relationship between money and politics, using interviews to examine whether the amount of state subsidy has an effect on perceptions about corruption and which types of corruption it brings about. Here he builds on Michael Johnston’s work on syndromes of corruption
Sam describes how his dissertation shaped his perceptions about the amounts of money involved in politics, referring to the famous example of Stuart Wheeler who held the record for the highest donation of 5 million pounds to a political party in the UK.
One of the main insights from his work comparing party financing in the UK and Denmark is that perceived donor based corruption does not differ between the countries even though the party financing is mostly private in the UK and largely state-funded in Denmark .
Sam describes how he went about conducting elite interviews and how he managed to get people talking about corruption. The interview tackles the question of what even counts as corruption when it comes to financing political parties: is it access or influence? Sam, Christopher and Nils discuss the complex nature of networks of influence in politics and how perceptions and reality about the effect of money on policy might at times differ starkly. Sam refers to the so-called Thomas theorem - if people define situations as real, they are real in their consequences - and how perceptions about corruption often might follow a similar logic. Zeroing in on perceptions about corruption Sam compares the public’s views on corruption to a thermostat.
The last part of the interview deals with Sam’s work on Facebook advertising and party financing. It shows how Facebook advertising works and how it essentially differs from classical political campaigning. One main difference is that it allows political parties to use Facebook and similar services to test ads. For more information about how social media is used in political processes Sam recommends “Who targets me?”
Christopher drawing on work by Helen Margetts which argues that “Social Media May Have Won the 2017 General Election” asks about the corruption risks that emerge with social media advertising by political parties. Sam describes several corruption risks that arise from social media political campaigning, referring to the challenges outlined in a recent report by the Electoral Reform Society