No criminal sanction for misuse of campaign funds
POLITICIANS WHO misuse campaign donations will not be subjected to criminal prosecutions despite a call from two lawmakers in the Senate on Friday for persons who breach the law to face punitive sanctions.
A clause in the campaign finance bill says contributions accepted for a candidate's campaign activities should not be used for any personal, family or business expenses. Despite creating the breach, however, the law does not propose a penalty.
"That is almost tantamount to obtaining money by false pretence. It is a criminal act, and having regard to the purpose of the bill, I think have to be very careful in dealing with that one. That, to me, is a corrupt act," said Government Senator K.D. Knight.
Opposition Senator Marlene Malahoo Forte supported Knight and called for sanctions to remedy the breach.
However, Justice Minister Mark Golding, who piloted the bill through the Senate, said that it is not the intention to punish the candidate in the manner proposed by Knight.
"It is not intended to make it a criminal offence. However, it does have potential consequences because breaching it would be a breach of the stature and would go to the whole question of you being able to seek reimbursement of your expenses," Golding said.
An independent candidate who gets more than 40 per cent of votes in an election or candidates of registered political parties can get back up to 40 per cent of his or her election campaign expenses. This, however, has to be approved in the Budget.
A candidate can spend a maximum $15 million in a political campaign.
Malahoo Forte also took issue with the legislative ceilings for candidates who run in elections. The law currently places a limit of $10,000 for personal living expenses. This includes the rental of premises for election purpose.
Malahoo Forte, who is seeking to represent West Central St James in the House of Representatives, said that she would be renting property in the constituency from which to operate and that the provision in the law is encouraging candidates to make false declarations.
"It really does not make sense," she said. "Why do we include the things, in a bill to be passed, that are going to create liars and dishonest people?"
Malahoo Forte called for a vote on the matter, but was the only one to vote against the offending clause. Fellow Opposition Senators Kavan Gayle, Arthur Williams, and Robert Montague abstained, while Tom Tavares-Finson supported the clause.
Golding agreed with Malahoo Forte that the ceilings, as contained in the declaration form, were not in keeping with reality, but said that the relevant clause in the Representation of the People Act must either be amended or deleted.
He said that such a matter was not before the Senate and that the Electoral Commission of Jamaica should address it.