Money, like elections, is an inherent part of multi-party democracy. However, if not transparent, money in politics carries equally inherent risks of corruption.
Transparency in political financing allows civil society to monitor party and candidate spending and spot and potentially stop funding coming from corrupt or suspicious sources.
Elections – as the most political and money intensive period in politics – are a special test for new democracies, especially where money in politics has traditionally been a veiled issue or where new laws have recently been introduced to make political financing more transparent.
Observing election campaigns offers insight into how political parties abide by the principles of integrity and good governance on which they usually build their election manifestos.
The first real transparency test for the political parties in Kosovo was its parliamentary election last December. Before the election it had adapted its law on political financing, making it mandatory for parties to publish information about their funding sources and expenditure.
Did the law have an impact?
TI’s national contact Kosova Democratic Institute (KDI) had 60 observers in 34 municipalities tracking spending of political parties and candidates, on rallies and TV ads, during the campaign, part of TI’s ongoing monitoring of political finance transparency in the Balkans.
Last week it revealed disappointing results.
Kosovo’s political parties failed to fully declare their sources of income and total campaign costs, make their declarations on time, or name private contributors as required by the law.
KDI uncovered evidence that spending limit has been violated and the costs officially declared by parties do not seem to match their real campaign costs. For example, one party is estimated to have spent just over a million euro but has declared just over a tenth of that as of March 22.
Political parties do not seem to have made progress on walking the talk of accountability: similar problems occurred during Kosovo’s 2009 local election.
This makes them the constant object of critics by civil society, who along with other TI Chapters and other NGOs, will continue to monitor the accuracy of political financial reporting and put pressure both on parties and oversight bodies to uphold the principles of transparent and accountable political financing.