Campaign Finance Reform: Why It Is Important and Where We Are Now

The ECJ’s report on campaign financing was tabled in the Parliament on September 10, 2013, sixteen years after the matter was first raised by Anthony Hylton at the 1997 PNP Annual Conference. On September 24 the reforms were accepted in parliament and is now before the Senate. These reforms have been years in the making. In November 2010, the Parliament approved the Electoral Commission of Jamaica’s report on Political Party Registration. In April 2012, the Parliament of Jamaica approved “with concerns” the report and recommendations of the ECJ on Campaign Finance Reform. Many civil and political society leaders have been lobbying our government to adopt the reforms.

According to the National Integrity Action, campaign finance reform is critical to strengthening the democratic processes of Jamaica. On its website, the anti-corruption agency outlined the reasons why campaign finance reform is a necessity for Jamaica. The key point they make are that unregulated money poses a risk to democracy because it leads the door open for dirty or illicit money to corrupt the political system as well as aids in perpetuating an uneven playing field amongst political candidates. They also note that according to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA, 2012) party registration and campaign finance regulation is required by International Conventions ratified by Jamaica and that in eighty five per cent of democracies financial reports from political parties are made public while in eighty one per cent of democracies the identities of major donors must be revealed.

There’s evidence of tainted money funding Jamaican political parties. Turks and Caicos Island Supreme Court Confiscation Order (April, 2012), Regina v David Smith specified US $5M and US $2M from the principal of an unregulated financial organization was given to the JLP and PNP respectively in 2007. These large sums of unregulated money being passed to political parties can lead to political candidates being controlled by financiers. These financiers could exert undue influence and get favours or kickbacks in various forms. For over ten years, many political leaders such as: Edward Seaga, P.J. Patterson, Bruce Golding and Portia Simpson-Miller have expressed their support for the reforms. The ECJ’s recommendations include: registering political parties, setting contribution and expenditure limits, declaring unregulated financial organizations as “impermissible donors”, disclosing publicly big donors and contributions from persons with current government contracts, barring public sector entities from campaign-related advertising, introducing regulated public funding and establishing a robust monitoring and enforcement system.

The NIA, in their statement issued the day after the reforms were approved in Parliament, called on the Jamaican people and their organizations to make their voices heard in support of this important measure to build integrity and combat corruption more effectively in our country. I believe that this a topic that every Jamaican should pay close attention to and support. For decades we have spoken about corrupt activities having infiltrated our political system. Some of us have become complacent with the way this system works even if it is obviously to our detriment. Pushing for reforms that will promote transparency will help to erode this culture of complacency and promote a healthy democratic process.

 Kathryn Williams 

Publications Committee Chairperson (2013-2014)


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