While general elections typically have guidelines around how much each candidate can spend on advertising and PR in the run-up to a poll, there were no such rules written into the Referendum Law for the port.
CPR Cayman highlighted this as a cause for concern, pointing to international guidelines designed to ensure parity of funding for all sides in such debates.
Attorney General Samuel Bulgin attempted to explain government’s position on the issue in a debate in the Legislative Assembly last week.
He said the absence of a more general law dealing with the conduct of referendums made enforceable spending caps difficult to achieve.
“There are obvious problems in attempting to do so [to police campaign spending] in a short time frame. It is not just a matter of putting in spending caps. It is a question of how you would monitor and enforce them and identify who would be subject to those spending caps,” he said.
In a general election, he said, it was more obvious who the key players are and therefore who should be subject to spending caps.
Though he acknowledged the Venice Commission, an international code of practice on referendums used by many countries, did recommend spending limits, he said many countries did not impose such limits. He added Cayman was not bound by the guidelines.
Both Premier Alden McLaughlin and Attorney General Bulgin have suggested that a more general referendum law is in the works and will deal with the issue of campaign financing.
Bulgin said, “When we enact a general referendum law, which the government is working on, we will have the necessary wide and detailed consultation that will hopefully arrive at a formula for the spending cap that will be acceptable to most stakeholders in the process.”
What does the Venice Commission say?
In public radio and television broadcasts on the referendum campaign, it is advisable that equality be ensured between the proposal’s supporters and opponents.
Equality must be ensured in terms of public subsidies and other forms of backing.
Political party and referendum campaign funding must be transparent.
There must be no use of public funds by the authorities for campaigning purposes, in order to guarantee equality of opportunity and the freedom of voters to form an opinion.
How do they do it in the UK?
In the UK, referendums are organised and regulated according to guidelines set out in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000.
Lead campaign groups are appointed by the Elections Commission to represent either side of the debate.
Any other campaigners wishing to spend more than £10,000 in the run-up to the poll must register with the Elections Commission.
Registered campaigners are required to submit pre-poll reports detailing donations over £7,500.