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Editorial: Where will this election money come from?

Published:Friday | September 4, 2015 | 12:00 AM

The issue of campaign financing is again receiving national attention, as Jamaica races towards a general election following hints by Portia Simpson Miller, the prime minister and president of the People's National Party (PNP).

It takes money to run election campaigns. And each election is more expensive than the one before. The administrative machinery calls for great resources, and the parties and candidates are also expected to spend money to guarantee success at the polls. A lot of figures have been thrown around, and while some may run a modest campaign, others who dedicate themselves to a lavish run will be required to expend many tens or hundreds of millions of dollars.

Electioneering calls for money to conduct polls, feed supporters, transport them to meeting venues, set up meetings, and hand out party favours, while taking care of advertising and other activities. Where does all that money come from? Most persons who enter politics are not wealthy individuals, so they have to raise money to fund their campaigns. Here's where it can get interesting: If donors are criminals or big businesses intent on hijacking the politician, he or she will forever be trying to repay them for donations made.


new entrants to competitive politics


Recently, we have seen in this newspaper several new entrants to competitive politics complaining loudly about their inability to raise funds and the great demands they face in seeking to win over a constituency.

A democracy depends on the votes of citizens to survive. In the Jamaican context, a certain apathy has developed towards elections and politicking. This has manifested itself in a marked decline of persons making the trek to the polling both.

Could this apathy have something to do with the fact that so many persons think politicians do not really care about them and are intent on feathering their own nests? Civic-minded individuals, like Professor Trevor Munroe, who heads the National Integrity Action (NIA), feels that this apathy could be reversed if there was meaningful campaign reform to make the electioneering process more transparent.

He is supported in that view by local opinion polls, one of which found that 75 per cent of Jamaicans want full disclosure by parties and candidates on the source of their financing.

The Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) has also made a raft of recommendations, including placing a limit on party/candidate expenditure and imposing a ceiling on contributions, while prohibiting some persons from becoming donors.

So even though there is general agreement that there needs to be reform, a campaign-finance bill has been lingering somewhere between the Office of the Chief Parliamentary Counsel and Cabinet and the Parliament. And although promised in 2013, it has still not become law.

Concern about campaign reform is something that has bedevilled this country from as far back as 1926, when Jamaica's first national hero, Marcus Garvey, suggested there should be no private funding of political parties and called for auditing of the accounts of political parties.

If indeed, there were a move to establish a national election fund, as has been recommended by one civil-society group, perhaps it could do much to restore the public's faith in the electoral process and attract to representative politics candidates with the constructive energy and creative minds who can move this country towards its development goals.