Staunton, August 20 – In the latest manifestation of the Orwellian principle that “all animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others,” some candidates from the ruling United Russia Party and its allies are being financed from firms based abroad, something that would lead to charges of being foreign agents or worse if any real opposition figures tried to do the same.
In today’s “Vedomosti,” Elena Mukhametshina reports on a Golos study in which experts conclude that “the system of financing election campaigns for governor is so opaque” that some candidates are getting “foreign financing” (vedomosti.ru/politics/articles/2015/08/20/605504-golos-predlagaet-schitat-edinuyu-rossiyu-inostrannim-agentom).
The journalist notes that “already by the results of last year, ‘foreign agents’ are at the head of several regions,” Golos found; and the election monitoring group says that after the upcoming September votes, “the number of governors whose campaigns are financed from abroad will only grow.”
Not surprisingly, “the largest contributions from foreign sources” are going to the ruling United Russia party and its candidates,” although the complexities of the legal webs its operatives use to make this possible preclude a precise determination of just how large this problem is, Golos’ Stanislav Andreychuk said.
He argued that “a prohibition on foreign financing is needed in order to protect the political system from the influence of foreign governments, but current law allows with the help of shadow companies to finance parties and election campaigns from abroad. It turns out that those who gain access to the levers of power can finance whomever they want.”
In the course of the present campaign, Andreychuk found, many candidates have been getting funds from companies registered in Cyprus or the Virgin Islands. Vasily Golubev of United Russia received such funds for his campaign to head Rostov oblast, as did Aleksey Ostrovsky of the LDPR who is campaigning to head Smolensk oblast.
Such foreign shell companies can be used to hide where the money is really coming from, including from the Russian government itself, according to the Golos study. Candidates typically say they have no knowledge of such funding, but some at least say they will give the money back if they learn it is coming from such sourcews.
Vadim Solovyev, a KPRF candidate, for example, says that his party tracks where its contributions are coming from in order to insure that there are no contributions from companies which in whole or in part belong to the government. If it determines that such contributions have been made, “we will return [them].”
Yevgeny Minchenko, a Moscow political analyst says, that he does not exclude that “certain companies which finance parties and elections can be beneficiaries with foreign roots,” but he insists that “’this is a question for party lawyers,’” rather than for the country and its electorate as a whole.
He favors liberalizing financing arrangements so that the real amount of money candidates spend is not as now many times the amount they legally declare. If that were done, then contributions would have to be reported directly rather than hidden by offshores or other means.
A second curiosity of this election season in Russia, albeit one with analogies elsewhere as well, is the Russian version of gerrymandering. For the first time in nine years, half of the seats of the Duma will be elected from territorial districts rather than just party lists; and the Central Election Commission has to draw the lines for these 225.
In 32 federal subjects, Sergey Yezhov of “Novyye izvestiya” reports, there will be only one electoral district, but in the rest, there will be several and where the lines are drawn may have an impact on outcomes just as such lines do in other countries (newizv.ru/politics/2015-08-19/225743-popast-pod-razdachu.html