Professor urges campaign finance reform

Professor Trevor Munroe of the University of the West Indies said last week that there is no way he could be considered an insider on Mitt Romney’s failed United States presidential campaign.  

However, Mr. Munroe, and everyone else in the world is free to know who gave money 
to Mr. Romney.  

“Any citizen of the Caribbean can, with the click of the mouse, know who gave the most money to Romney’s campaign – a man by the name of Sheldon Adelson, the owner of the Las Vegas Sands Casino 
empire,” Professor Munroe said. “That you can access by simply going on the website of the Federal Elections Commission of the United States.  

“By the same exercise, I know that Jeffery Katzenberg, Hollywood film producer and chief executive of Dreamworks animation was the No. 1 contributor to [US President Barack] Obama’s campaign. Any of us can know that about the United States.”  

What the citizens and residents of most Caribbean countries cannot know, at least officially, is who gave how much money to their own local political parties and, in some cases, individual political candidates.  

“It cannot be right,” said Mr. Munroe, speaking to a crowd of well more than 500 people at the University College of the Cayman Islands on Thursday night. The event was the first in what the university hopes will be a series of speakers on various topics of public interest.  

“Any of us can know who were the biggest contributors in the third quarter of 2012 to the British Labour party … but none of us here in a parliamentary democratic system can know who is paying the piper and thereby well positioned to call the tune,” Professor Munroe said. “Not in Jamaica, not in Trinidad, not in Barbados, not in Guyana, and, of course, not in Cayman Islands.”  

At the moment, Cayman has no upper limit on political contributions made to either individual candidates or political parties. 

The Elections Law (2004 Revision) does provide an expenditure limit which candidates must stay within. 

The limit applies to candidates from the time they receive official nomination to the day of the general election, usually about six weeks. Candidates belonging to political parties can legally spend only $30,000 within that time; independent candidates may spend up to $35,000 between their nomination and election day. 

All candidates are required to report the total amount of their expenditures within that time period to the elections supervisor’s office, where those records are kept on file for a year after the votes are counted. 

Any candidate accepting a donation greater than $5,000 must identify the source of that donation to the supervisor. The name and address of any person who contributes more than $10,000 to a candidate or party must also be given to the supervisor’s office.  

Candidates and parties are not required to document any donations or expenditures which occur outside of the nomination period. In other words, if someone receives or spends $200,000 on a campaign prior to their official nomination as a candidate, that would not violate spending limits.  


Vote buying  

Also of some surprise to many in attendance, Mr. Munroe said that most Caribbean countries had laws against vote buying.  

“This happens almost as if it’s a matter of course … and what [non-enforcement] does is bring the law into disrepute,” Professor Munroe said. 

In Cayman, vote-buying allegations would likely be handled under the territory’s Anti-Corruption Law as a form of bribery.  

According to the law, anyone pretending to have influence and who accepts rewards in exchange for some kind of government cooperation or assistance could face 10 years in prison upon conviction. 

Public officials are also legally obligated to report bribes offered to them. 

The law replaces criminal offences that were under the Cayman Islands Penal Code for official corruption and false certificates by public officers. Mr. Munroe said tightening up campaign finance laws and making donors to political parties public would go a long way toward cleaning up some of the “dark corners” of Caribbean politics.  

“We should not have to speculate,” he said. “The point is that we should have campaign finance regulation in law that provides disclosure from big donors, who gives how much to which party and should ban – prohibit – unregulated financial organisations … from giving money to political parties to fund election campaigns.  

“The longer we take to plug this and similar loopholes, the more people will lose confidence in the rule of law, the justice system and ultimately the democratic system of governance.” 

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