Jamaicans demand politicians disclose source of campaign funds

(Jamaica Gleaner) With concerns lingering that money from criminal elements could get into the hands of politicians to finance their election campaigns, and fears about the influence that some financial backers of political parties could have on the governance of the country, most Jamaicans want to know who is paying the piper.

A recently conducted Gleaner-commissioned Bill Johnson poll has found that more than seven in every 10 Jamaicans (75 per cent) agree with the call for political candidates to publicly state the source of the money used to finance their campaigns.

The poll also found that only 18 per cent of Jamaicans disagree with the call for the public disclosure of campaign financing, while seven per cent say they are unsure.

The strong public support for the measure, placed on the table by the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ), is in line with civil-society groups which have long backed calls for public disclosure.

“The poll result shows the mature thinking of Jamaicans and the recognition that the people need to know who pays the piper so they can look out for who is calling the tune,” said Professor Trevor Munroe, executive director of the National Integrity Action Forum.

“It is known that over the years money from criminal sources and powerful special interests has entered the political stream and these persons give themselves an advantage over the national interest,” added Munroe.

The public’s endorsement of open disclosure of campaign-financing sources comes at a time when the House of Representatives has approved changes to the Representation of the People Act to increase the money that politicians can spend on their campaign from the J$3-million limit that has been in place since 1996 to J$10 million.

The ECJ has proposed limits on campaign expenditure and the disclosure of expenditure and contributors as part of a raft of measures to govern the financing of political parties and their campaigns.

Both major political parties have indicated their support for the measures, but it is unlikely that legislation to enforce the changes will be in place before the next general election.

However, the ECJ has reported that the Jamaica Labour Party and the People’s National Party have agreed to voluntarily comply with some of the proposals for campaign finance rules even before the law is in place. The ECJ has not said which of the measures will be complied with.

“The fact that both parties have agreed to a first step in reforming campaign financing showed that the people’s views have started to impact the parties,” argued Munroe.

He noted that he tabled a motion in the Senate in 2002 while he sat as an Independent senator and while both sides of the political divide agreed on the need for this legislation, there was little movement.

According to Munroe, “What the poll result means is that there should be voluntary compliance for this election and whichever party forms the next government should move full speed ahead on campaign-financing legislation as a first priority.”

The Gleaner-Johnson poll was conducted from November 5 to 6 and November 12 in 84 communities across the island and has a margin of error of plus or minus four per cent. The sample size is 1,008 people.

 

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