Commission Uncovers Small-Time Campaign Finance Violations
MOSCOW (AP) _ Free booze and vegetables. Those are some of the violations the Central Electoral Commission has come up with so far in Russia’s campaign for parliament.
But not a word about just how some of the top parties are paying for so much TV time, or allowing candidates to fly around the country on corporate jets, appeared in a summary of the commission’s report released Thursday.
Getting to the bottom of campaign financing in Russia’s parliamentary ballot is no easy matter in a country where Soviet-style secrecy lingers and the tradition of free elections is so young.
Ten days ago, Central Election Commission Chairman Nikolai Ryabov said the commission was investigating campaign financing following controversial reports about the accounts of parties running in the Dec. 17 vote.
With 10 days to go before the vote, the full report has still not been released; Alexander Ivanchenko, deputy chairman of the commission, said Thursday the results would be released soon.
Although recent polls show many Russians are worried about the possibility of falsification of election results, they do not appear overly concerned by fraud connected to campaign financing.
Some of the ordinary Russians interviewed on a recent TV program called ``Money and the Elections,″ said they thought it was cheap to buy a deputy already in office and they were sure some of the parties cheated with money.
Grigory Yavlinsky, a leading reformer whose Yabloko bloc is expected to do well, recently said no politician had the money for a clean campaign and many had sold out to those holding the purse strings.
The election commission has turned up some violations that could lead to the exclusion of at least several of the more than 8,000 candidates running for seats in the Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament.
``In the Moscow region, in the Irkutsk region (western Siberia), it’s a question of candidates (giving) out alcoholic drinks and vegetables. Those are things of real value,″ Ivanchenko told a news conference.
The commission also is looking into campaign financing and there are some important violations, mainly concerning individual candidates. However, Ivanchenko refused to provide any details.
According to Russian campaign rules, each of the 43 parties running is allowed to spend 13 billion rubles, the equivalent of 250,000 times the minimum wage or about $3 million.
That is not big money in a country as large as Russia or where TV ads can cost anywhere from $3,000 to about $30,000 a minute.
Some of the larger parties, including Chernomyrdin’s, ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s and Lt. General Alexander Lebed’s, are running large and expensive TV campaigns.
Pyotor Romanov, a lawmaker in the Federation Council, the upper house of the Russian parliament, accused Chernomyrdin of giving money illegally to Russian Public Television for its many ads on that station _ a charge echoed by former Vice President Alexander Rutskoi, who also is running for office.
Ivanchenko of the election commission said investigations are opened when complaints are made and none had been filed so far against Chernomyrdin or his party, Our Home is Russia. The party has denied any allegation of illegal campaign financing.
Chernomyrdin’s government also suddenly has come up with billions of rubles _ the equivalent of millions of dollars _ to pay back wages to everyone from soldiers to pensioners to impatient coal miners who have threatened to strike.
In the 1993 parliamentary elections, there were allegations Zhirinovsky had received money from Austrian and German nationalists, but they were never proven.
A significant portion of campaign money comes from corporate sponsors. In the 1993 elections some top bankers and industrialists openly bankrolled the election campaigns, sometimes funding several parties at once.
The banks appear far more reticent this time around.
``Our bank has a motto: Don’t get involved in politics,″ said Alexander Kaganov, chief spokesman for the Stolichny Bank. ``Everybody should do his thing. Bankers should make money, and politicians should make policy.″
``We don’t make campaign contributions. Period. It’s bank policy,″ said Pavel Zotov, a spokesman for Tveruniversalbank.
There are ways to get your name known without spending money.
In the Siberian city of Irkutsk, a factory is producing Our Home is Russia beer. And a factory in the Volga River town of Samara is producing chocolate with the party’s name on the wrapper.
That can’t beat Zhirinovsky. For several years, the man who promised cheap vodka to all Russians has had his name on the label of Zhirinovsky vodka.