Who's Funding Political Parties?
It is obvious, based on the huge mobilisation of supporters that we saw at St Joseph two weeks ago, that the Dominica Labour Party (DLP) is extremely well-financed. From the grapevine we learnt that the DLP was expected to settle a bill of EC$1.36 million for the event. We understand that St. Joseph will be the venue for another huge gathering soon, this time from the United Workers Party (UWP) and we expect the bill to be substantial as well.
But the public will not know the cost of any of these events or the source of the funds and they do not seem to care. In a paper produced for the OAS Unit for the Promotion of Democracy and entitled: "Political Party and Campaign Financing in Dominica", Cecilia Babb states that the "culture of privacy, reinforced by the absence of requirements for public disclosure, predispose political parties to guard their financing information against the eventuality of it being made available to other parties. This precaution goes as far as not reporting to party branches given the possibility of changes in party membership."
Babb added: "Party officials and known contributors in the private sector were suspicious of the attempt to quantify the cost of an election and sought to keep that information private. The media was equally cautious about divulging information as to what a particular party had spent on advertising. Without access to records for comparing sources and destination of resources it is not possible to accurately and conclusively determine exact costs of campaigns beyond the average figures that respondents were willing to offer".
Party officials contend that political campaign financing is a party's private matter so long as it is legal money and money that is free from drugs and money laundering. In response to questions a few years ago about the source of DLP funds, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit supported that view by stated that it is nobody's business who gives Labour money to finance its campaign. And he added a few more words for emphasis that we will not repeat here.
But most Dominicans will agree that the use that political parties make of campaign funds should not include bribery or paying money to secure a person's vote. Each political party has legitimate political campaign expenses involving activities such as transportation, TV and radio advertisement, manifesto production and distribution, tee shirts, caps, flags, banners, memorabilia, bumper stickers etc. These can amount to vast sums and the party can appeal to their supporters and other sponsors to raise these funds and no one can find fault with this so long as they are legitimate sources of funding.
However, political parties have been accused, by their opponents, of using campaign money to pay candidates cash or kind to run for them and in paying individuals to vote for them. Of course, confirming this accusation is very difficult since no one will openly admit that he has paid or has received money for contesting an election.
The Dominican public should, therefore, be asking both parties who is paying for these campaigns because it is important to know who the prospective purchasers of our politicians are. Are they foreign governments, terrorists, international drug dealers or just plain, innocent persons and businessmen who want more than their fair share of the cake? Unless we ask those critical questions our next government, whether it is the DLP or the UWP, could find itself dancing to the tune of a foreign country, a few rich individuals or some questionable companies.
Though there is no evidence of the fact, some people believe that some of our politicians receive direct financial contributions from drug lords. But alarmingly, there are no systems in place to prevent that from happening.
Several countries including Europe, the United States and Canada are undertaking reform, pertaining to the funding of political campaigns. Even in our region there are discussions about limiting campaign contributions, monitoring contributions to the parties from individuals and corporations .There is also the debate about whether the state should contribute to political campaign financing.
There are a number of questions that we need to ask on the issue of campaign financing. These include:
Do people get contracts from politicians and political parties when they become the government not because they are qualified but because they gave lots of money to the politician or the party?
Are politicians and parties able to buy votes because the population has become so very poor?
Are politicians tempted to buy votes and candidates because there are no limits on how much politicians and parties can spend on elections?
Don't we need rules to regulate political parties, how they are financed and how they fund exorbitantly expensive election campaigns?
We believe the people have a right to know who's giving what to whom for campaigning, at least to avoid the impression of governments becoming beholden to private backers instead of being accountable to the people who elected them.
It is clear that Dominica must establish a commission to look into rules and regulations to control the funding of election campaigns, maybe for the 2020 general election.