Ten of the 56 candidates who participated in the May 2013 general election did not file campaign finance reports by the required deadline, according to the Cayman Islands Elections Office.
However, nothing will happen to them for not meeting the filing requirements, according to new Elections Supervisor Wesley Howell.
“The law is written fairly loosely when it comes to filing,” Mr. Howell said Wednesday. “We need some teeth to deal with these folks, and right now there just isn’t.”
According to Part 5 of the Elections Law , strict penalties are imposed upon sitting members of the Legislative Assembly who do not file campaign reports. Members who take up their seats in the LA without submitting campaign revenues and expenses, along with a list of donors, for the last six weeks of any campaign are fined $500 for every day they stay in the legislature.
But Mr. Howell said the law is silent on unsuccessful election campaigns. So the 10 failed candidates in the May 2013 election who either filed late or not at all get off without penalty.
“There’s no other fine than [the one for sitting LA members],” Mr. Howell said.
It’s one of several issues both Mr. Howell and former Elections Supervisor Kearney Gomez have flagged as problems with the campaign reporting regime.
Reports for campaign spending between candidate nomination day, 27 March for this year, and election day, 22 May, were submitted by the majority of the candidates, Elections Office reports indicated. However, the level of information provided in those reports varied widely.
For example, the People’s Progressive Movement party submitted two manila folders about an inch thick, each with details of campaign donors, itemised expenses and revenues collected for the period. In contrast, the United Democratic Party submitted a dozen-page report that didn’t include names of specific donors who gave more than $5,000, with the exception of Bodden Town district.
The Coalition for Cayman and the People’s National Alliance, both listed as ‘political parties’ on the Elections Office reporting forms, didn’t submit anything. Rather, their specific candidates filed as independents and presented their own campaign spending for the six week period.
Again, Mr. Howell said he can’t blame the candidates or the parties for the varying levels of details provided in the reports.
“We don’t have an accounting standard [for the forms candidates or parties submit],” he said.
Moreover, there are no reporting requirements whatsoever for expenditures or donations made to parties or candidates prior to nomination day.
“What happens now is that folks pre-pay for ads, pre-order supplies and those things are done before nomination day,” Mr. Howell said. “It’s all very hazy.”
The same issue was raised in 2009 by former Cayman Islands Governor Stuart Jack, who noted that someone could receive or spend $200,000 all in one go prior to their official nomination as a candidate and that would not violate the Elections Law.
“[This is] one issue that, in my personal view, needs a look before the next election,” then-Governor Jack said, speaking just after the May 2009 general election. Nothing has been done to change the reporting law since.
It’s not just campaign finance reporting that is under the spotlight. Spending limits for the six-week period between nomination day and election day now stand at $30,000 per political party candidate and $35,000 per independent or unaffiliated candidate. Mr. Howell said these limits were put in place as a way to give lesser-funded campaigns a chance, but he believes they’re just not workable in the modern era.
“How much is a full-page colour ad in your paper?” he asked. “Based on that and what TV time costs, I don’t think numbers are reasonable anyway.”
One way the United Kingdom gets around underfunded political campaigns is by banning television advertising during the campaign season, Mr. Howell said. However, that is made up for via equal time requirements set on the government-funded British Broadcasting Corporation during the campaign.
Cayman has no equal time laws for radio or television.
“Campaign finance in general is a topic that we’d like to review going forward,” Mr. Howell said.