Clear Accounts in elections: how is the money in political campaigns spent?
Elisabeth Ungar Bleier
Through the web-based software Cuentas Claras (Clear Accounts), candidates for Colombian local elections inform the citizens and electoral control entities about their funding sources and how campaign money is spent.
Transparencia por Colombia (TPC) is the Colombian chapter of Transparency International, was founded in 1998. It is the leading Colombian civil society organization in the fight against corruption and for transparency. TPC is working in different projects with the public and the private sectors as well as with citizens, to strengthen their capacities to exert social control and improve democratic governance.
Since 2006, Transparencia por Colombia (TPC) – has been implementing the project “Strengthening the Financial Reporting Capacity of Political Parties and Movements”, which has focused on promoting financial transparency among political parties and movements as well as their capacity to file financial reports in accordance with the legal framework currently in effect.
An important part of this project, (with the financial support of the National Democratic Institute-NDI-(USAID)) is the participation of political parties , the National Electoral Council (Consejo Nacional Electoral, CNE) and the web-based software ´Cuentas Claras en Elecciones´ (Clear Accounts in Elections) which has been developed to enable candidates and political organizations to comply with their obligation to consolidate, audit and present reports on campaign incomes and expenses, strengthen the CNE’s capacity to control political financing and to enforce the law.
This project has been initiated as a basic Excel spreadsheet for candidates and political parties to easily report incomes and expenses of campaigns according to the current electoral legislation. Over these six years, ´Cuentas Claras´ has changed and has faced many challenges in its implementation. Today, it is a complete software which was adopted by the CNE as the official tool for electoral finance reporting by political campaigns.
Some of these challenges have to do with the reluctance of the political parties and the electoral authorities to make information public for citizens. Although there was never an open opposition against the implementation of Cuentas Claras, it was not until 2010 that both, the CNE and the political parties, have recognized the importance of making political financing more transparent and accessible to the public.
On September 2011, the tool for transparency and accountability in elections was donated to the CNE and the Registraduría Nacional del Estado Civil (National Registry Office), as a way to contribute to their efforts to modernize and increase transparency of the electoral process. Today, they are the direct managers and beneficiaries of the tool since it allows them to review and certify the campaign accounts in a more organized and effective manner. This is a good example of how a civil society organization as TPC can work together with a State actor (the CNE) and the political parties to improve transparency.
Perhaps one of the most important achievements of this ongoing effort is that TPC added a new module for public consultation that, for the very first time, enables citizens to know candidate’s political campaign financing reports in real time, just by clicking on the button “Public view of information” at www.cnecuentasclaras.com.
This new module improves citizens’ capacities to get more involved in social control activities during elections. Cuentas Claras has become an instrument for accountability, but also for the promotion of an informed voting.
During the past weeks, previous to the upcoming regional elections (October 30, 2011) Cuentas Claras has been consulted by several national and regional media, who have written articles on how local candidates are informing about their financing. This has become an important pressure mechanism to make political financing more transparent. But perhaps even more relevant, it will become a very useful tool to follow potential conflicts of interests between elected officials and their financial backers.
Elisabeth Ungar Bleier is managing director of Transparencia por Colombia since 2009.
Cuentas Claras - What does this software do?
1. Enables candidates to:
2. Enables political parties to:
3. Management module to control entities:
4. Enables citizens to: