Campaign finance sham

Published: Friday | December 6, 2013 Comments 0

Peter Espeut

I
f you say you intend to reform the arrangements for the financing of political campaigns to make them more transparent, having declarations made in secret will not achieve your objective. Something is transparent when you can see through it. Declarations of all campaign contributions must be made publicly, for all to see. That is not what is currently being proposed. I made this assertion last week, and no one - including the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) - has contradicted me.

The current ECJ recommendations for campaign finance reform published last August are little more than a sham and a ruse to add taxpayers' money to the campaign kitty. Spurious logic is advanced in support of state political funding:

"The commission recognises that state funding may act as a valuable tool in protecting political equality of opportunity and electoral competition, thus creating a level playing field by enabling new and small parties and persons of modest means to offer themselves as candidates and compete with parties or candidates who are dominant and, perhaps, are more financially viable." (page 17)

There is no level playing field here. Parties which received hundreds of millions of dollars in campaign donations will continue to receive them, with the state funding added on top of that. In fact, there is a direct relationship between the funding a politician receives from the private sector and what is proposed he will receive from the State.

Candidates will not get state funds upfront, but will be reimbursed based on what they spend: "Qualified candidates should be reimbursed from state funding to an amount not exceeding 40 per cent of total election expenditure." (page 17)

Those candidates who spend hundreds of millions will get a reimbursement of 40 per cent of their hundreds of millions. Those candidates who spend only a million or two will be reimbursed 40 per cent of a million or two. How is that a "level playing field", and "protecting political equality of opportunity and electoral competition"? This is a good example of the old adage, "to those who have more, more will be added unto them" - this time using taxpayers' money.

Use of language such as "creating a level playing field" and "political equality" is obfuscation and a direct attempt to mislead the public.

The spurious logic used by the ECJ to justify state funding of political campaigns gets even deeper: "Further, the commission is of the view that state funding can act as a mechanism to restrict or limit the influence of money from illegal sources and its potential for corrupting and, ultimately, distorting the democratic process. State funding can serve as a hedge against candidates feeling obliged to turn to illegal sources or becoming obligated to certain permissible donors." (page 17)

What utter rubbish! I see nothing in the ECJ proposals that will restrict or limit political financing from illegal sources. This whole document is a strategy to allow politicians to plunder the public purse on top of whatever they get from other sources. They may hide the illegal donations, such that they are not used in the baseline for calculating the 40 per cent; but how will state funding of political campaigns "restrict or limit the influence of money from illegal sources"?

STATE FUNDS AND THE PEOPLE

I am particularly amused by this part: "State funds shall only be disbursed upon certification by the director of elections that the candidate is in compliance with the relevant provisions of the Representation of the People Act and also upon certification by the political ombudsman that the candidate and/or relevant political party is in compliance with the Political Code of Conduct for elections." (page 17)

Anyone who has read the agreed Political Code of Conduct for Elections (2005), and has been in Jamaica during any election - general, parochial, or even a by-election - knows that neither party has adhered strictly or even loosely to its terms. Both parties have garrisons (zones of political exclusion) and armed political thugs in breach of the Political Code; both parties deface walls and posts with handbills, and display in every constituency across Jamaica orange and green cloth hanging from utility poles. And much more!

Despite this patent and notorious behaviour, is the political ombudsman going to certify compliance with the Political Code of Conduct for Elections so the politicians can get their funding? Will there be some mechanism where the public can provide evidence to expose breaches and so block garrison politicians' and flag-flying territorialists' access to public campaign funds? The ECJ recommendations are silent about this.

Trevor Munroe's National Integrity Action is mounting a media campaign to drum up public support for campaign finance reform. What exactly are they asking the public to support?

Peter Espeut is a sociologist. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.

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