Oct 21, 2020 News
By Kemol King
Kaieteur News – In the United States, candidates face serious penalties including fines and jail time if they don’t produce campaign finance reports in a timely manner, or otherwise breach campaign finance laws.
For instance, in March 2015, a US District Judge sentenced the Connecticut Republican Lisa Wilson-Foley to five months imprisonment, one year of probation, and a fine of US$20,000 plus the cost of her incarceration and monitoring, for breaking federal campaign finance laws during her bid for election to the US House of Representatives.
First Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael J. Gustafson said that “While seeking election to the U.S. House of Representatives, Lisa Wilson-Foley conspired to hide from the electorate payments made to a shadow operative hired to assist her campaign both quietly and on the radio.”
The penalty faced by Foley is one of several, indicative that, unlike Guyana, the US places much stock in scrutinizing the money received and spent by candidates, to ensure the public is kept up to speed on how money impacts political campaigns.Providing such scrutiny tends to take a lot of work, and is managed by the Federal Election Commission (FEC). The agency independently regulates campaign finances and enforces the nation’s campaign finance laws. The need for such an agency is made evident from the sheer complexity of the US electoral system and the magnitude of money passing through candidates’ campaigns.The FEC produces publicly accessible reports which are monitored by the press and watchdogs, creating a voracious web of scrutineers for politicians’ finances.
In the US, elections happen frequently, for Mayors, Senators, Congressmen, and other officials. Their campaigns rely heavily on money to make an impact with voters.
The three US presidential candidates who have raised the most money for their 2020 bids jointly account for more than US$2 billion, as of October 20. At the top of the list is billionaire businessman, Michael Bloomberg with more than US$1.1 billion spent on a primary campaign which lasted just over three months. Democratic nominee, Joe Biden trails him at a distance with US$540 million, while the incumbent Republican nominee, President Donald Trump has raised US$476 million so far.
These figures represent the magnitude of money passing through the very highest echelon of the US electoral system.
Executive Director of the non-partisan, non-profit Centre for Responsive Politics, Sheila Krumholz told reporters during a briefing on September 30 of the importance of transparency in the movement of money during elections.
“So without transparency,” Krumholz said, “where we can’t consider the source of the money fueling political campaigns or the motivations driving it, we are all operating with one hand tied behind our backs.”
With the advent of Guyana’s oil industry, the impact of money on the South American nation’s elections is no longer one of generally local proportions. International interest in Guyana has peaked. In the months leading up to the elections, political commentators had wondered whether oil companies, and their lobbyists and interest groups would seek to influence the outcome of Guyana’s elections.
Throughout the five-month electoral stalemate, several powerful international organizations, nations and watchdogs commented frequently on Guyana’s electoral situation. Some politicians asserted that this was due to the influence of lobbyist firms hired by the major political parties.
Yet, there is virtually no conversation on campaign finance. During the 2020 election cycle, Guyanese politicians only vaguely endorsed calls for campaign finance reform when journalists posed questions. However, the topic did not feature in their manifestos, and nothing has been said of it during political discourse on electoral reform.
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