Sunday, April 11, 2021

OP-ED | 28-07-2018 11:56

Editorial: Scandalous campaign financing

The most popular and respected politician in the country has nos longer her hands clean.

In many ways it is rather unfair that the latest scandal concerning campaign finance irregularities should centre, according to the polls, on the most popular and respected politician in the country. But in other ways it is entirely appropriate because it shows that absolutely nobody has their hands clean here, thus underlining the urgency of reform. The 205 names of bogus donors to the 2017 midterm campaign of the ruling Let’s Change coalition in Buenos Aires province, exposed just over a month ago (of whom 50 were summoned to court, a number which has since quadrupled from other denunciations), are but the tip of the iceberg, quickly mushrooming to revelations of several thousand cases of falsified contributions from the last two elections involving the three main parties – not to mention the suspicions which must now inevitably surround the millions of names on party lists of card-carrying membership (a prerequisite for running). More details of this black hole of politics are bound to emerge but they need not concern us here, except perhaps to say that not all the names should be placed in the same bag. Some are cases of venal complicity with campaign organisers, some manipulation of social benefits and others entirely innocent victims whose names seem to have been taken out of the blue. Indeed some of the denials of being bogus donors might themselves be bogus (are we really to believe the mayor of Mar del Plata when he says that he never contributed a cent toward his own campaign?).

To return to the initial point, it is equally fair and unfair that this scandal should centre on Buenos Aires province Governor María Eugenia Vidal. Unfair because the sanctimonious Kirchnerite critics behind the original exposé can hardly talk – Martín Sabbatella’s incredible denial that Kirchnerism ever incurred in such irregularities would immediately be silenced by reference to the illegal ephedrine sales fuelling their 2007 campaign. Furthermore, if Kirchnerite legislators are so upset about shady campaign financing, why have they so constantly blocked any attempt at reform in that direction?

But having said all this, it is also not unjust to be harsher with Let’s Change than Peronism (with its historic boast of “robbing but getting things done”) since they are they are ones promising to raise the bar and change Argentina for the better. Even allowing for the high probability that this latest drive to blacken her name has malicious and sinister origins (such as the various police, gambling and other mafias she is battling), Vidal still has plenty of questions to answer – not least, if so many registered contributors never placed a single peso but the campaign funds were really spent, where did the money actually come from (political financing is as good a route for laundering as any)?

The Mauricio Macri administration’s reflexes are rarely slow when it comes to sensitive issues for public opinion and they have reacted promptly enough with talk of new legislation but the fact that these reform proposals come immediately after a crisis has broken invites heavy scepticism – especially when so little detail is provided. In hard economic times such issues can serve as a distraction – the government has already been suspected of introducing the abortion bill for this purpose and Macri’s abrupt decree to deploy the Armed Forces in domestic security and thus open up a debate on the role of the military could be a more recent case in point. Yet this is also an excellent time for reform at a healthy distance, well over a year from elections, so let us cast scepticism aside and take the government at its word for now, while urging that the murky world of Argentine campaign financing should be cleaned up once and for all.

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