Two of Colombia’s presidential candidates keep their campaign contributors secret

Posted on May 23 2014 - 11:47pm by Today News
Clara Lopez and Juan Manuel Santos

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Polo Democratic candidate Clara Lopez continue to use a legal loophole to avoid revealing who their campaign donors are before the election.

Colombia’s 2014 elections

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Juan Manuel Santos

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Oscar Ivan Zuluaga

Enrique Peñalosa

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Clara Lopez

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Marta Lucia Ramirez

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Colombia’s transparency laws state that candidates must reveal their donors, but the same law, according to independent electoral watchdog MOE, gives the presidential candidates two months after the election to report their campaign contributors.

Only Oscar Ivan Zuluaga from Uribe’s Democratic Center (Centro DemocraticoCD) party, the Conservative’s Marta Lucia Ramirez and the Green Alliance (Alianza Verde – AV) candidate Enrique Peñalosa have reported their campaign donors. They have also reported contributions from family, loans in individual funds, and barter.

Because the state bank loans given to candidates are on the public record, it is possible to see that part of the funds for Santos from the National Unity Party (Unidad Nacional – UP) and Lopez. But as seen in the graph below, the absence of declarations leaves a gap in the picture when looking at the campaign funding in Colombia’s presidential election.  

Reported campaign donations

Looking at the chart it seems that Ramirez and Zuluaga has by far the most resources for their campaigns. But with numbers missing from the president and Lopez it is impossible to say who has the largest budget. What seems to be the case though is that Peñalosa do not have a large campaign budget.

In 2010 Santos’ list of personal donators was long and the total sum of personal donations reached a number of $1.2 million, according to numbers from CNE reported by El Tiempo. This amount exceeds reported donations from this year’s candidates as seen on the graph where Zuluaga’s donations are $304,285, Ramirez’ $173,542 and Peñalosa’s $162,006. If Santos’ amount of donations coming from individuals this year is anywhere near the amount in 2010, his campaign budget will probably exceed all of the other candidates.

Voters not aware of interests behind campaigns

The amount differs significant from candidate to candidate, and according to Nicolas Montoya Cespedes, PhD student at Sorbonne Law School in Paris and Master in law from Andes University, the campaign contributions are extremely important because they will often show private interests behind political campaigns.

“If you follow the money, you are usually going to find private interests that are backing a candidate, some of them legitimately but also others in the hopes of some sort of retribution once the candidate is in office.”

“Campaigns cost a lot of money. Usually people ignore how much it costs to travel all around the country, to buy all the ads (particularly on TV); and to pay for the campaign staff, just to name a few. If you follow the money, you are usually going to find private interests that are backing a candidate, some of them legitimately but also others in the hopes of some sort of reciprocation once the candidate is in office,” Montoya Cespedes told Colombia Reports.

The law gives the presidential candidates two months after the election to report their campaign contributors, and it seems that the candidates have taken advantage of this. Even Colombia’s president has not reported the name of his contributors.

Montoya Cespedes explained why this could be the case. First of all the candidates, he said, often argue that it is not possible for them to report the contributions before the election day because they do not keep track of money coming in, only money going out.

“There are, however, other possible reasons: sometimes they do not want to be associated with some of their contributors; some contributors (not necessarily the usual suspects as drug cartels, holders of public procurement and such) may ask to be left out of the reports in fear of the retributions from other camps, etc,” and he furthermore explained that also media moguls or business owners could have an interest in being kept out of the reports.

No consequences if candidates don’t report donators

Montoya Cespedes is concerned that this lack of transparency distorts the election and the democratic process. But he called out for the voters to care about who the people behind the campaign-money are.

Top donations

Zuluaga

  1. Elena Maria Teresa Echavarria
    $ 26,478
  2. Jairo Antonio Rincon
    $ 15,886
  3. Jaime Humberto Torres
    $ 15,886

Peñalosa

  1. Luis Carlos Sarmiento
    $ 105,912
  2. Diego Ramiro Canelos
    $ 26,478

Ramirez

  1. Parking international
    $ 105,912
  2. Gabriel Humberto Zárate
    $ 15,886
  3. Hernando de Jesus Franco
    $ 15,886

 

“Transparency is one of the most important aspects of the democratic process. When voters ignore this information it is as if they did not really know the candidate and what he or she stands for. ”

But according to Montoya Cespedes other factors also play a role in the lack of transparency when it comes to campaign-funding in Colombia.

“Finally, elections authorities, like the CNE do not have the political will or the institutional capacity to gather all the information and make it public. To be fair, some progress has been made, but it should be remembered that it was the initiative of some NGOs that was instrumental in that progress, as the current software that the CNE uses to control campaign finances was originally a donation from civil society organizations, like Transparency International,” Montoya Cespedes said and underlined that unfortunately there is in practice no actual consequence for not revealing the contributors or for going over the expending limit.

Through a website, candidates and political organizations publicly report the income and expenses of election campaigns in the terms and forms required by the National Electoral Council (CNE). In 2010 CNE was adopted as the official channel for accountability of political campaigns. Legal persons are not permitted to make donations, since they must be traced back to a personal donor.

Sources

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