No perfect campaign financing law exists, warns Jamaica elections commission

(Jamaica Observer) The Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) has forged ahead with a raft of recommendations for Parliament on political campaign finance legislation despite its own declaration that no such law exists that cannot be flouted.

The “…emerging wisdom on Campaign Financing is that there is no perfect or permanent legislation that can be formulated. Whatever measures are put in place, efforts will be made to circumvent them and to find loopholes, thus requiring new measures”,” said the ECJ in its report.

That statement precedes the recommendations in its report on the vexed issue that was tabled in Parliament last Tuesday. The proposals were developed following wide-ranging public consultation on the issue.

The Commission said however, that despite this widely held view, “prudence demands that acceptable, workable and effective measures are enacted subject to appropriate adjustments in the future”.

It said what also emerged was that workable and effective measures on Campaign Financing must, at a minimum, include elements dealing with disclosure, state funding, monitoring and enforcement”.
The Commission’s recommendations fall under ten headings ranging from the sources of contribution and donations, impermissible donors, limits on contributions to candidates and political parties, limits on election expenditure of candidates and of political parties, to disclosure by candidates and political parties.

It has also made recommendations as it relates to the issue of state funding of election campaigns, a national campaign fund, campaign advertising and political broadcasts, monitoring and enforcement, and additional capacity for the Commission — all part of efforts to prevent the use of tainted funds in election campaigns.

As it relates to its proposal to place limits on contributions or donations to political parties, the ECJ is proposing that “the total amount of contribution given by a donor should not exceed in a single campaign period, J$1 million to a single candidate, or J$1 million multiplied by the number of constituencies being contested by a political party, provided that the total amount given to all candidates and political parties does not exceed J$10 million”. In addition, the ECJ is recommending that every political party and candidate must submit separately to the Commission, during a campaign period, monthly reports of contributions or donations received, giving details in respect of each donor.

As it relates to State funding, the ECJ said this could act as a valuable tool in protecting political equality of opportunity and electoral competition, “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 more financially viable”.

“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,” the report said further.

It also noted that state funding can “serve as a hedge against candidates feeling obliged to turn to illegal sources or become obligated to certain permissible donors”.

Last week, civil society groups stepped up public pressure on government to honour the convention of acceptance of the ECJ’s recommendations without further delay.

The Jamaica Civil Society Coalition called on all Parliamentarians to remember their committment to honour the pre-election agreement on campaign financing.

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