NGOs plan to monitor parties’ campaign spending

Citizen Rights’ Party-Zemanites’ campaign, photo: CTK

If MPs vote to dissolve the lower house next week, Czechs will be going to the polls in two or two to three months’ time. Given the lack of time for full-scale campaigns, parties say they will spend less than they would ahead of regular elections. However, two NGOs have their doubts about that, and say they will closely monitor the parties’ fundraising and spending.

Citizen Rights’ Party-Zemanites’ campaign,  photo: CTK
One indication that Czechs could go to the polls sooner rather than later is that some political parties have in fact already started campaigning. The Citizen Rights’ Party-Zemanites, and ANO, a movement run by the multibillionaire Andrej Babiš, are already attempting to reach voters on dozens of billboards. The Social Democrats, meanwhile, have booked dozens of sites in the capital for elections rallies.

The relatively short election campaign could be considerably cheaper than that ahead of the previous general election. In 2010, several parties were suspected of spending far more than they actually declared – giving rise to speculation that they had done behind the scenes deals with media magnates.

This time out, Transparency International and another NGO called Our Politicians are planning to monitor campaign costs as well as the parties’ sponsors and advisors – to make sure they play by the rules. David Ondráčka is the head of Transparency International’s Prague office.

David Ondráčka,  photo: Šárka Ševčíková
“If we really have an early election and there will only be two or three months for the campaigns, the parties will not have enough time and space for spending too much. On the hand, there are some new players like Andrej Babiš who has unlimited resources for his campaign. That will put other parties and groups under pressure to spend more to be able to compete with him. Another factor is that we still don’t know when the election will take place, and the campaign might last longer than expected.”

Your group along with the NGO Our Politicians is planning to monitor the campaign. What exactly will you be focusing on?

“We monitored the presidential campaign earlier this year, and we want to build on our experiences. Our intention is to look into the incomes and expenditures of each political party. We want to see who their main sponsors and supporters are, what their backgrounds are, from the viewpoint of potential conflict of interest, and their dealings with the government.

“We want to look into expenditures and the way political parties report on them, whether their reports are truthful and reflect the real costs. And last but not least, we would like to profile all relevant candidates, their top advisors and the agencies which will play a role in the campaign. We want to offer people their detailed CVs and cases they were involved in the past.”

Photo: Filip Jandourek
During the presidential elections earlier this year, Transparency International and other groups reported marked irregularities in some of the candidates’ accounts. However, the election law includes no sanctions for failure to comply, and none of the alleged culprits have faced any repercussions.

But anti-corruption campaigners say that political parties must understand that their finances are being watched. They also hope their reports will help identify loopholes in the legislation, prompting lawmakers to close them in the future.