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Campaign finance


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As elections move closer, there should be a stronger effort to improve transparency in campaign finance, insist election watchdogs, who want the Yahapalanaya Government to pass a campaign finance law that would increase accountability in an area that has been allowed to be overlooked for too long. 

People’s Action for Free and Fair Elections (PAFFREL) has stressed the need to include provisions in the proposed campaign finance law to monitor transnational funding to political parties during elections. But there is also a significant need to map funding from other sources including donations and inflows from the private sector. 

PAFFREL has submitted proposals to be included in the campaign finance law which would govern the finances of candidates during election campaigning. PAFFREL Executive Director Rohana Hettiarachchi believes the enacting of the proposed legislation would make it necessary for each candidate to maintain separate accounts for campaign financing. 

In other countries there are provisions for political parties to declare their finances within a certain time period since they were received. Even though the level of transparency varies there is a strong need for this element of elections to be addressed as well. As a process that spends public money to elect public representatives who in turn direct public money it is essential that the entire system is given a legal overhaul to be more efficient.

 Sri Lanka already has some laws that call for asset declaration by candidates but these do not cover the heftier party finances.  There is also little attention paid by the media to demand greater transparency on how candidates fund their campaigns or how funds flow between candidates and parties. Foundations established by various politicians or have political links also campaign on behalf of certain candidates or parties and accept donations for the same.  

Laws requiring the disclosure of political donations are intended to secure and uphold the integrity of the electoral system and, in turn, the integrity of the decision-making of the government. The goal is to prevent corruption by exposing those who might seek to wheedle their particular causes to the forefront of policymaking or, indeed, buy influence. Knowledge about who has financed politicians’ campaigns helps to expose potential conflicts of interest. It assists in keeping leaders accountable.

Real-time (or near-enough) publication of donations and campaign financing would greatly advance the aim of preventing corruption. It is done in the United States; it can be done here. Many countries have also evolved other systems to tackle fund raising by other means, especially the internet, where policing by conventional laws can be difficult.  

There are patent concerns that politicians might be persuaded to generate favourable decisions and, thus, appease those who have financed their campaigns. But adverse perceptions can be damaging, too. The community’s confidence in the integrity of the democratic process, in the government itself, might be destabilised on the basis of a perception of a conflict of interest.

Exposing, at the earliest opportunity, who stands behind the money flows, and doing so before the day of the polls, is essential if the process is to have any meaning. For Sri Lanka the first step would be a comprehensive campaign finance law that is linked to the Right to Information (RTI) Act, giving free access to the public.


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