By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
ATTORNEY General Carl Bethel has presented the Progressive Liberal Party with a draft bill seeking to regulate the campaign finances of political parties, the beginning of a process that could transform politics in the country.
Administrations have occasionally talked about campaign finance legislation, but none has committed to seeing it through to date. The draft bill distributed by Mr Bethel is similar to a bill the PLP drafted in 1980 under Sir Lynden Pindling, one that never made it to Parliament.
“I sent a draft bill to opposition members,” Mr Bethel said yesterday. “It still needs a lot of work. The PLP drafted it in 2012 but did not finalise the draft.”
“We are seeking to revive the dialogue. After the Christmas, I will have some suggested changes done through draftspersons in law reform and will resubmit.”
The renewed focus on campaign finance legislation comes as the Minnis administration seeks to pass a Non-Profit Organisation Bill, currently stalled in the Senate, that would force non-profits to disclose sources of funding.
Critics like Bahamas Christian Council President Delton Fernander say it is problematic that NPOs would be subject to unprecedented disclosure requirements while political parties do not.
The draft bill obtained by The Tribune, the Political Parties Registration and Election Financing Bill 2012, would prohibit people or companies licenced under the Gaming Act from contributing to a political party or candidate, a provision that has already received some pushback in private, The Tribune understands.
A provision of the bill would cause independent candidates and the registered candidates of registered parties to be reimbursed by the Treasury Department for their campaign expenses if they receive at least 15 percent of total votes in their constituency.
The bill would prohibit political parties or candidates from directly or indirectly receiving contributions from people or companies that do not normally reside in the Bahamas.
It would limit the number of donations a person, company or trade union can give to political parties and candidates to “X” thousand in a particular period, with the specific limit not identified in the draft.
The draft bill says: “No political party or candidate registered under this Act and no person on its or his behalf shall knowingly accept any contributions in excess of the limits imposed by this Act. Where the chief financial officer learns that in excess any contribution was accepted by or on behalf of the registered party or registered candidate for whom he acts in excess of the limits impost by this Act, he shall, within 30 days after learning thereof, return the amount of the contribution that is in excess of the limits.”
The bill mandates that all monies given to political parties and candidates in excess of $100 be delivered by cheque with the name of the contributor legibly printed, signed and drawn on an account in the contributor’s name.
The bill would prohibit political parties or candidates from receiving anonymous contributions in excess of $25, mandating that such sums be returned within 14 days of its receipt.
The bill would limit the expenses political parties can incur during elections. It says: “The total expenses incurred by a political party or candidate registered under this Act, including transportation, living accommodation and advertising done or provided by any person, company or trade union with the knowledge and consent of the political party or candidate shall not exceed in the case of a registered party and registered party branch in a general election, the aggregate amount determined by multiplying ten dollars by the number of names appearing on the corrected register for all constituencies in which there is an official candidate for the registered party; in the case of a registered party in a by-election, the amount determined by multiplying five dollars by the number of names appearing on the corrected Register for the constituency; in the case of an independent registered candidate in a constituency in a general election or by-election, the amount determined by multiplying five dollars by the number of names appearing on the corrected register for the constituency being contested by the independent registered candidate and in the case of a registered party and registered candidate in a by-election in any constituency of a Family Island other than Grand Bahama and Abaco, the amount determined (above) shall be increased by a maximum of $4,000.”
The bill would require the chief financial officer of a political party or candidate to report the gross income of any fund-raising function, though monies raised during such events would not be considered contributions under the legislation. The proposed law mandates that no more than $50 be given anonymously at meetings held on behalf of a political party or candidate.
The only people authorised to accept monies under the bill are the chief financial officer or the person designated at the Registrar General’s Department to accept contributions. All political parties would be required to appoint a CFO who must maintain proper records of receipts and expenditures and submit financial statements, along with an auditor’s report, to the registrar on or before December 31 of each year.
The maximum penalty for contravening any provision of the bill is a fine of $10,000. There is no mention of jail time. The bill demands that the attorney general consent to prosecution proceedings.
Documents filed at the registrar would be public records accessible to any person under the proposed law. Political parties and candidates would be required to register with the department. The registration information would include names and address of banks and financial institutions entitled to accept deposits for a political party. Each candidate would be required to have a personal auditor and CFO.
Transparency and accountability activists have long called for campaign finance legislation. In 2012, former Prime Minister Perry Christie said campaign financing had sunken to “repugnant” and sometimes “criminal” levels. His successor, Dr Hubert Minnis, made campaign finance legislation a key part of his campaign agenda in the lead up to the last general election.
The Organisation of American States, which observed this country’s election in 2012, recommended that campaign finance laws be implemented. At the time, the OAS concluded the matter seemed less important to Bahamian politicians than it did to other stakeholders in the country.