Regulating campaign money – the need of the hour
Posted on July 14th, 2018

By Arjuna Ranawana Courtesy Ceylon Today

The reaction from Social Media to recent revelations about the sources of funding that our politicians got during the 2015 elections range from derision to anger.

One of the most popular posts on this subject on Twitter is a quote from the wacky American actor and comedian, Robin Williams who said, Politicians should wear sponsor jackets like NASCAR drivers, so we know who owns them”, translated into Sinhala this quote spread like wildfire.

NASCAR is a type of car racing in America and drivers wear jackets, bearing the logos of their sponsors which are prominently displayed. The sponsor who gives the most amount of money has the right to demand that their logo will be dominant and the other sponsors logos will appear as smaller emblems.

Let’s for a moment imagine what our politicians’ jackets – or shirts – would look like if Williams’ suggestion is implemented here in Sri Lanka. The logo of the tainted Perpetual Treasuries financial trader would be emblazoned on the jackets of candidates from almost all political parties in the country, ranging from Field Marshall Sarath Fonseka to Sujeewa Senasinghe to Dayasiri Jayasekara, although the logo would be pretty small because the sums were small to middling. But the logos of the alleged big contributor, China Harbour, which according to multiple newspaper accounts, donated to both sides in the last presidential election would have its logo dominating the jackets of these parties.

Seriously, we as citizens have to be concerned that there are no laws governing political campaign donations in Sri Lanka, despite our boast that we are the oldest democracy in Asia.

In effect, politicians can accept donations even from drug lords, criminal gangs and even foreign entities pushing their own agenda and not be prosecuted. Right now in Sri Lanka our candidates can accept any amount from anybody.

In all democracies, campaign funding is an issue. In England, the first laws regulating funding and spending to elect candidates were passed in 1883 and despite that, scandalous allegations for instance that Honours – Knighthoods, Life Peerages and such – were handed out for hefty donations or ‘loans’ have deeply wounded the country’s vaunted democracy and brought down powerful leaders. Many of the lacunae in these laws have been closed, but it is an on-going process.

Younger countries like Canada and the United States have robust laws and regulations with Canada, prohibiting any organization societies or Corporations from making contributions and allowing only individuals to donate up to a certain limit. US laws are similar and regulations governing campaign money are strict and violators can go to jail. These days US Federal Investigators are trying to figure out whether the sum of US$ 130,000 ‘hush money’ paid to an a movie star to stay quiet about an affair that she says she had with then Presidential candidate, Donald Trump can be construed as a campaign donation.

In neighbouring India, a broad coalition of election watchdogs, Rights activists, lawyers and academics waged a decade-long struggle and finally had Parliament pass a law regulating campaign expenditure in 2003. But, activists say that the law does not go far enough and that all political parties have argued that the Right To Information Act (RTI) has no purview over them.

Niranjan Sahoo of the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi writes that there is A long history of delay, subterfuge and dilution by successive governments at the Centre and there is amazing unanimity among political parties – Left, Right and Centre – to stall any possible progressive reforms to bring greater transparency and accountability in political donations and their expenditures.” He adds that Even electoral trusts and their sources of contribution suffer from opacity and no government of the day has shown the political will to end the anonymity. The current Bharatiya Janata Party Government is also trying to introduce some regulation but appears more concerned about the presence of Black Money emerging as campaign donations. It is trying to ensure that all donations have come through Banks.”

In Sri Lanka, the struggle is on to try and regulate campaign money. The charge is being led by the watchdogs People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL) and the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV). They have now produced a draft Bill which has been handed over to Members of Parliament.

Executive Director of PAFFREL, Rohana Hettiarachchi told Ceylon Today that discussions had been held over the past four years or so and the draft was given to MPs about a year ago. He said discussions had been held several times with all stakeholders, they include the Elections Commission, all Secretaries to  political parties, academics, lawyers and activists.

The draft, seen by Ceylon Today does not say campaign funding cannot be taken. It seeks to limit how much and from whom these donations can be taken. For instance we want to stop donations to parties from entities which are foreign-funded or do business with the Government,” Hettiarachchi says.

He says even when laws are promulgated, Politicians will take money from various sources. We cannot prevent that, but at present there is no way for us to legally challenge the donations that various entities have made to political parties or individual politicians as there is no legal framework covering these donations.”

Hettiarachchi says that in several rounds of discussions held with various stakeholders the reaction to the draft Bill has been positive. He said some of the smaller political parties had said their local level supporters would provide meals or cups of tea when they campaign and donations such as those are very small and would be arduous to document and report. The really hard part of this mechanism is how would election spending be monitored? How would we track how much a candidate or party was spending? Our suggestion is that candidates open separate Bank accounts for campaign spending and all donations be deposited there and expenses disbursed from that account. At the end of the day, these accounts should be audited and the results filed.

But in the case of Local Government elections and other smaller groups, the question arises as to whether they can find auditors and many would say they cannot take that step.”

Hettiarachchi is enthused by the positive reaction from politicians he has discussed the draft Bill with. After it was revealed that MP Dayasiri Jayasekara had also received a donation from Arjun Aloysius, he offered to bring this draft to Parliament as a Private Member’s Bill. He may have done that to minimize the damage done to him by this fact becoming public, but he did make the offer. Another MP who has offered to do this is Tharaka Balasuriya, who is part of the MPs Collective for Clean Politics. We handed the draft over to Minister Faiszer Mustapha because he had offered earlier to bring the proposal to Cabinet, to set campaign spending ceilings for the Local Government elections.

In Sri Lanka, sometimes one single businessman offers to fund the entire campaign of a particular politician. When that happens, the politician is obliged to help business interests of that one person.  In our draft we have proposed that there be a ceiling such as five per cent of a campaign expenditure that one individual can donate. Then the politician will not be in the grip of that one individual.

There is already widespread disappointment about the conduct of our politicians as they are seen by the public as incompetent, mostly corrupt and some hand in glove with criminals. One sure way of cleaning up the system somewhat is to have some regulation of campaign funding.

So, all of us should lobby for the current draft to be put before Parliament as well as the people so that it is debated widely and eventually made into law.

One Response to “Regulating campaign money – the need of the hour”

  1. Christie Says:

    Political gearing is part of the dollar (any currency and benefits) democracy.

    Those gearing is carried out by those who really run the country.

    The best example is the Jewish lobby in the West.

    Indian Parasites are joining the Jews.

    Here it is the Indian Colonial Parasites.

    The best examples are Indian parasites like Captains, Gnanams, Hidramanis, Abans, Pages, Keels etc etc who are all Indian Colonial Parasites.

    Those who were geared by these parasites are N M, Phillip, Banda, Sirisena, Ranil etc etc.

    Those who geared the politicians are the richest in the land today.

    Indians and Indian colonial parasites and Indian parasites gear the politicians of the West and benefits they get are interfering or not interfering in Indian involvements in those countries.

    Examples are our country and Indian Occupied Kashmir.

    Indians know how to manipulate and squeeze through (bend the law in our parlance) the law.

    Most of the Indian including Tamils in Canda finance political parties in Canda with individual donations and membership.

    A geared politician by Indians who interferes with our affairs in UK was Cameron. Most of the Western politicians dote same when it comes to us because Indians finance them.

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