Expenditure by candidates on election campaign

The role of money power in the elections in the State may not be perceptible as elsewhere. But the expenditure part of the election campaign by rival candidates and political parties lays bare the gap between private and public faces of candidates and political parties.

In public, the candidates fielded by their parties hardly spend beyond the permissible limit of expenditure set by the Election Commission (EC) for the Lok Sabha elections. The statement of expenditure to be submitted by each candidate will be less than Rs. 70 lakh to ensure that they followed the expenditure norms of the EC in letter and spirit. But, in private the candidates and their parties spend in ways that render the permissible spending limit largely fictitious. What is private, however, is invisible.

Expenditure observers have spanned out in the Lok Sabha constituencies in the State to monitor spending by the candidates. They will be assisted by teams of Income Tax officials and the expenditure monitoring committees. Despite this monitoring mechanism in place, invisible expenditure remains unaccounted.

A senior Income Tax official, who is in charge of the monitoring mechanism in two districts, says the practice of candidates giving cash

and valuables to the electorate is non-existent here. Close monitoring by expenditure observers and the monitoring teams has also put constraints on the parties and candidates going overboard in displaying campaign materials. The invisible expenditure often involves efforts to keep the campaign machinery well-oiled till the polling day, says the official.

Even though I-T officials closely monitor all substantial bank withdrawals exceeding Rs.10 lakh and conduct raids to unearth unaccounted cash during the election campaign period, it is difficult to monitor the invisible transactions for funding the campaign of the candidates. The existing system of election spending and their monitoring by EC-empowered observers may be effective in the sense of having some controls on the expenditure of candidates. But it also makes the candidates morally corrupt by forcing them to file their expenditure returns that are simply not true.

“Unless the influence of money in electioneering is not controlled, transparent democracy is in jeopardy,” says Director General of Prosecutions T. Asaf Ali, who in 1996 contested a byelection in the Thalassery constituency against the late Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader E.K. Nayanar.

The influence of money in the election eliminates the level playing field for rival candidates, he says.

Terming the idea of State funding of election expenditure unrealistic, he suggests a system where the EC supplies uniform but authorised campaign materials for which the political parties should pay the EC in advance the permissible amount for each candidate. Political parties and candidates will not have any problem with such a system as it ensures a level playing field for the rival candidates, he points out.

In the existing situation, the inflow of black money in the election battleground is not a figment of imagination. If the Reserve Bank of India had not extended the date for exchanging currencies issued prior to 2005 to January 1, 2015, the influx of unaccounted money for the election campaign would have been a bit difficult.

The EC's raising of the ceiling on poll expenditure for a Lok Sabha seat from Rs. 40 lakh to Rs. 70 lakh, however, is seen as realistic. Even though the raising of the expenditure cap has brought a semblance of realism, the campaign managers of major candidates feel the expenditure will still exceed the permissible limit.

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