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A Call for Campaign Finance Transparency

posted Nov 24, 2010, 9:10 AM by The Tibetan Political Review
By the Editorial Board of The Tibetan Political Review


According to a New York Times editorial on November 22, 2010, the 2010 U.S. elections saw at least $139 million spent by secret campaign donors after the Supreme Court loosened campaign finance laws. The problem with secret donors, the Times notes, is that "[t]hey cast a shadow of doubt and distrust…, raising questions about who is covertly pushing which bill and supporting which candidate, and for which self-serving purposes.”
Our Tibetan democracy may not see such huge amounts of cash, but the stakes are just as high: the future of a nation. Unfortunately, Tibetan voters are even more in the dark than American ones when it comes to the sources of campaign finance.

This was not much of an issue before, when Tibetan candidates did not seriously campaign. However, as we noted previously, the 2011 election is the most competitive Tibetan election ever. The Kalon Tripa candidates have campaigned in India, Europe, and North America, with more travel surely to come. Dharamsala and the settlements are flooded with campaign posters and materials. There are a host of proxy websites, with costs associated with hosting and domain name registration. Then there is the question of whether any campaign staff is being paid.

This competition is good for democracy. However, all this campaigning costs money; money has to come from somewhere. Some of it is probably from the candidates’ own pockets, but some of it surely comes from political contributors. But from whom, and with what expected in return?

We therefore propose that the Kalon Tripa and Chitue candidates voluntarily disclose the sources of their campaign funding. Every donation should be reported. Perhaps smaller donations below a certain threshold can be anonymous, but certainly any significant donations should have their donors identified by name. An official from the Election Commission should be allowed to audit these disclosures.

We expect that there will be resistance to this proposal among the candidates. On the other hand, a candidate who embraces campaign finance transparency as part of his or her platform should be rewarded by the voters. Additionally, we propose that the Standing Committee of the Parliament immediately consult with the Election Commission, and pass legislation mandating campaign finance disclosure effective for the current election cycle. As the New York Times said, “political contributions can be perfectly legitimate practices, but only when the public can see who is pulling the strings."