Turning the corner into the election season, as more campaign banners grace the sides of buildings and car bumpers sport campaign stickers, political parties are counting the size of their war chests in preparation for a spending spree.
Though the February 2010 presidential election cannot be bought with commercial space on TV channels or noisy perifoneos (car-mounted speakers) in the streets, the final tally is tangentially affected by dollars accumulated, said Gilberto Gómez, accountant for the Supreme Elections Tribunal.
“Those who receive more money tend to get more votes,” said Gómez.
According to the latest numbers from the Supreme Elections Tribunal, the National Liberation Party (PLN) has a secure lead in fundraising, with three times the amount of money raised as the runner-up, the Citizen Action Party (PAC).
Laura Chinchilla, former vice president in the administration of President Oscar Arias and considered the president’s handpicked replacement, has the party’s $1.9 million at her disposal for the campaign.
Ottón Solís, an academic and long-time politician, is next in line with a current financial backing of $559,000. Otto Guevara of the Libertarian Movement follows with $159,000.
However, the political scene is still evolving and could be vastly different at the time of the next campaign filing at the end of this month. Adding to the uncertainty are new campaign finance rules that could affect the final vote.
“The electoral code has undergone a transformation,” said Gómez, listing as examples new sanctions, stricter rules on who can donate and public financing for municipal elections.
Among the most significant changes is the lifting of limits on the size of campaign contributions by private individuals. However, limits on donations by corporations were maintained.
At the same time, foreigners and judges have been prohibited from contributing to campaigns, and fines and jail time maybe imposed on convicted violators.
“The sanctions – to me – are the most significant change,” Gómez said. “Before, people didn’t pay attention to the rules because nothing would happen to them if the rules were broken.”
Under the new code, a candidate could be incarcerated for up to four years simply for accepting a direct contribution. Under the Costa Rican electoral code, all contributions must be funneled through the party.
However, Costa Rican candidates don’t rely solely on private contributions. In fact, the Supreme Elections Tribunal announced this week that it will allot ¢17,174 billion ($29 million) in public funding to candidates in the February 2010 election.
Any party that received more than 4 percent of the vote in a previous election or that has a legislator serving in the National Assembly is eligible for state financing.
“The state gives money to the political parties so they can function throughout the years and not just during election season,” Gómez said.
While some countries rely solely on public financing of elections and others limit election financing to private sources, Costa Rica does both.
For Gómez, the sanctions in the new electoral code – combined with the public-private system – make Costa Rica’s electoral process one of the best in the Western Hemisphere.
“There isn’t another one like this in Latin America that I know of,” he said.
Political War Chests
National Liberation Party
¢1,107,818,008 ($1.9 million)ic
Citizen Action Party
Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC)
Broad Front Party
Source: Supreme Elections Tribunal, June 2009al War Chests