As Liberia political parties, candidates, and coalitions get in the middle of the electioneering period ahead of the October 2023 elections, the spotlight intensifies on the intricate interplay between campaign finances, money in politics, and public resources. Liberia, like many African countries, grapples with the regulation of political campaign funding. While campaign financing is essential for a functioning democracy, the misuse of money and state resources poses significant challenges if unregulated.
❖ Article 77 of the Liberian Constitution provides for a multi-party democracy and free competition of ideas.
❖ EISA LTOs have observed the use of public resources for political campaigning.
❖ Liberia has a legal and regulatory framework for campaign finance.
We dissect the multifaceted nature of campaign finance and the utilization of state resources in elections, such as increased political participation, and investments in infrastructure, while also shedding light on issues of corruption, vote buying, and the burden of long-term debt on candidates. The electoral landscape is a complex tapestry where these elements intertwine, in most cases contributing to shaping the electoral outcome. Since the beginning of the electoral campaign period, EISA Long Term Observers (LTOs) have repeatedly witnessed the use of government resources for partisan political purposes, and this potentially undermines the principles of democracy and fairness in electoral processes. LTOs in Grand Bassa and Nimba counties observed the use of state resources in the form of vehicles. This is a violation of the Election Law Article 10.2a on the use of state resources, including government vehicles.
- Political Participation: Adequate campaign funds enable a diverse range of candidates to enter the electoral arena. This diversity enriches the political discourse and allows for a broader representation of the populace’s interests. Infrastructure Development: Elections often prompt governments to invest in infrastructure projects, such as roads and schools, in a bid to win over voters. This investment can have long-term benefits for the country’s development.
- Economic Stimulus: Election spending potentially brings funds into the local economy. Businesses catering to
campaign needs, such as printing services and event management, benefit from this influx of capital.
- Accountability: Transparency in campaign financing leads to accountability, as candidates are compelled to
disclose their funding sources and expenditures. This transparency can reduce the likelihood of corruption.
- Unequal Playing Field: In many African countries, including Liberia, the wealthy often have an unfair advantage in elections. They can easily outspend their opponents, drowning out the voices of candidates with fewer resources. In the case of Liberia, unequal utilization of state resources for political purposes potentially creates an unfair political competition that contravenes the spirit of free competition as enshrined in Article 77 of the Liberian Constitution.
- Corruption and Vote Buying: Excessive campaign spending can breed corruption, as candidates seek to recoup
their investments through illicit means. Vote buying and the manipulation of state resources for electoral gain can
undermine the integrity of the electoral process.
- Long-term debt: Candidates who borrow heavily to finance their campaigns can find themselves in crippling debt
after elections, potentially compromising their independence as elected officials.
- Potential to divert resources: Incumbents may use state resources for campaign purposes, diverting funds and
shifting priorities away from essential public services.
Regulating campaign finance in elections is a complex challenge, and there is no easy solution, but it is an important issue that needs to be addressed if African countries including Liberia are to achieve truly democratic elections based on issue-based politics. There are mechanisms that can be put in place to improve the situation. One important mechanism is to strengthen the legal framework for campaign finance. This includes making it mandatory for political parties to disclose their sources of funding and setting limits on campaign spending. This disclosure should be followed by an effective monitoring mechanism either by an independent actor or an Election Management Body (EMB).
The National Elections Commission of Liberia (NEC) has limited technical resources to enforce the provisions of the law and to accurately track the flow of money despite a detailed legal and regulatory framework on campaign finance. EISA commends ongoing collaborative efforts between the NEC and a private voluntary institution, Integrity Watch Liberia (IWL), to strengthen compliance and enforcement of the campaign finance framework during the 2023 elections.
Regulating campaign finance in elections is a complex challenge, and there is no easy solution, but it is an important issue that needs to be addressed
Finally, it is important to promote civic education and awareness about campaign finance issues
Another important step is to increase transparency and accountability in the use of state resources. This means ensuring that all public funds are used for legitimate purposes and that there is no wasteful expenditure or
abuse/misuse of public funds. To ensure free competition as enshrined in Article 77 of the Liberian Constitution, political campaigns should provide equal opportunities for all participants, enabling candidates and parties to present their policies and engage with voters on an equal footing. Finally, it is important to promote civic education and awareness about campaign finance issues. This would help to ensure that voters are informed about the issue and that they can hold their elected officials accountable for their use of money in politics.
In conclusion, the issue of campaign money and public resources during elections in Liberia, as in many African countries, presents a story of both opportunities and challenges, democratic aspirations and potential pitfalls. While campaign financing is necessary for a vibrant democracy, it must be effectively regulated to prevent undue influence and corruption. There is a delicate balancing act that Liberia faces as it grapples with the infusion of campaign funds, money in politics, and state resources.
About USAID Support to EISA-IEOM to Liberia: The USAID-funded EISA International Election Observation Mission (EISA-IEOM) Activity seeks to enhance the integrity of the 2023 Liberia Presidential and Legislative elections through the deployment of an independent international election observer mission (EOM) to monitor, assess and report on all phases of the electoral process in accordance with international and regional benchmarks. The IEOM is implemented in close coordination with the financial support of USAID/Liberia and will complement the efforts of other electoral stakeholders.