EVEN without seeing the bills, the public can normally tell which parties are spending most on their election campaigns. Though political parties are required by law to report their campaign expenses, political ethics watchdogs are on alert, suggesting that some are using loopholes in the legislation to avoid reporting the actual amount they have spent.
Nineteen of the 26 parties registered for the March 10 parliamentary elections filed preliminary reports on the financing of their election campaigns from October to the beginning of February to the Ministry of Finance by February 27. While the biggest spender, at least officially, was the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ), which confirmed spending of about €1.290 million, the lowest sum was declared by the recently established 99 Percent – Civic Voice party, which claimed that it had spent precisely nothing, according to the website of the Finance Ministry.
The amounts declared by individual parties seem more or less realistic, according to Michal Ruttkay, CEO of CreoYoung and Rubicam Group advertising company.
“Maybe only the KDH [Christian Democratic Movement] ‘overshot’ [the amount of money spent on campaign] so this has to be mentioned as a significantly unreliable entry,” he said, as quoted by the Hospodárske Noviny daily. “The other reports could be accepted, if we did not look at the partial data. They reveal the creativity of the individual authors.”
Nevertheless, it is the 99 Percent party’s financing – or claimed lack of it – which has attracted the most attention. The country has been blanketed with advertising billboards and radio and TV ads for the party for the last few months.
The expenses of other parties vary from the €242,000 reported by the Ordinary People and Independent Personalities (OĽaNO) party to the €1.085 million reported by the Slovak National Party (SNS).
The SDKÚ, the largest party of the outgoing centre-right government, stated in its preliminary report that it had spent most money on promotional materials such as billboards and posters, and also on meetings with voters. Its campaign is likely to cost about €2,000,000 in total, party spokesperson Michal Lukáč said.
“The SDKÚ got a loan from a commercial bank operating in Slovakia to pay for the campaign,” Lukáč told The Slovak Spectator.
The second highest amount spent so far was by the opposition SNS, which spent most on broadcast advertisements. These comprise 25 percent of the amount it plans to spend on its whole election campaign, according to Marek Massay, marketing manager for the SNS election team. The expenses will be covered by a bank loan, Massay told The Slovak Spectator.
Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) reported that it had so far spent about €612,276 of its projected €800,000 total spend for the whole campaign. The money came from party reserves from the state financial contributions that the party received after the last election, and also from loans from party members, SaS spokesperson Tatiana Tóthová told The Slovak Spectator. She added that the party does not plan to borrow any money from banks or other businesses.
The opposition Smer party reported that it had allocated €1,619,949 to spend with the company Uptown Production, which is responsible for its campaign presentation. The company has already spent €283,000, of which the highest amount was used to pay for billboards and posters, internet services, promotional materials, refreshments and other services connected with meetings with voters. The campaign is being financed from the reserves of the party, as well as a bank loan, according to the Finance Ministry website.
The Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) reported spending €281,000, which is to be covered from financial gifts received by the party and a €1-million bank loan.
Most-Híd stated that the largest expense item among the €276,000 it had already spent on the election campaign was used to pay for posters and billboards erected on municipal sites. The party plans to spend about €750,000 to €800,000 in total, Most-Híd’s press department told The Slovak Spectator, adding that the party would use its “own resources and the financial contributions of sympathisers named on the [party] website”.
OĽaNO reported preliminary expenses of €242,000, while the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) claimed it had spent more than €306,000.
Ruttkay told Hospodárske Noviny that it is surprising that the KDH had spent only €663 on travel.
“If the leaders drive to meetings at their own [expenses], this is actually a financial gift to the party’s headquarters which should be part of the contract and claimed in the report,” he said, as quoted by Hospodárske Noviny.
99 Percent questioned
Questions were raised after a new political party, 99 Percent – Civic Voice, stated that it had spent no money on its campaign to date and that its only income was a loan of €18,000 from Ján Sido, the deputy head of the party.
“We will spend another €500,000 for the campaign of the 99 Percent – Civic Voice,” the party’s press department told The Slovak Spectator, adding that the campaign would be financed by supporters of the movement’s ideas and proposals.
Though one of the movement’s candidates and its alleged main sponsor, Ivan Weiss, said that the campaign has already cost about €1.4 million, he refused to reveal the main backers of the party. He said that advertisements broadcast by TV and radio stations in support of the party were paid for by the civic association Citizen in Action, which does not have to say where the money comes from, the Sme daily reported.
Slovak law does not allow parties to accept financial gifts from civic associations, but the Finance Ministry will not fine the party. Ministry spokesperson Martin Jaroš told the Sme daily that the party had “cleverly made use of a hole in the law”.
“It [the law] controls whether the parties get any money from associations,” he said. “When the association does not give the party a gift and only expresses its political support, as is presented in this case, the law does not catch it.”
Pavel Novotný from the civic association Civic Eye said that he was disappointed by the ministry decision.
“When the party claims no expenses while it is doing this massive campaign, it probably indicates total non-transparency,” he said, as quoted by Sme.
The financing of the party has also been questioned by the chair of OĽaNO , Igor Matovič. He offered 99 Percent €33,200 from his party’s pre-election funds if Weiss were to answer ten questions while connected to a lie detector, the TASR newswire reported.
The questions would pertain to the background of the 99 Percent party, as well as the alleged activities of the other members of the Weiss family, Matovič said. At the same time, Matovič promised to answer any question Weiss asks him. Weiss responded that he was prepared to answer the questions before the March 10 elections, but on condition that Matovič spend 15 minutes with his party at a press conference to openly and publicly join 99 Percent’s public commitment to abolish the funding of political parties from people’s taxes.
Peter Bagin contributed to this story