Campaign, Money and Politics: Whose Buying Liberia’s Elections?

By Siahyonkron Nyanseor

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
August 18, 2011


In the Good book, the Bible, the Lord warned that money is the root of all evil. But in politics, money may be a necessary evil! Money has always played a pivotal role in politics and has always been an issue of daily debate in democracies everywhere, both in the developed and developing world. How political parties get access to money, can influence the outcome of elections, determine the relationship between party leaders and members, and define the level of public trust the electorate has both in the process and in politicians. For several months now, prior to and since the official launch of the 2011 campaign season, party financing—how parties obtain and use money to influence the political process, have come under increasing scrutiny. According to Liberia’s National Elections Commission (NEC), there are 22 political parties and independent candidates participating in this year’s elections. How are these parties and candidates being financed and funded?

Siahyonkron Nyanseor
As the campaign season unfolds, there have been scandals and rumors of money changing hands. Here is a quick review of the money trail and what has been chronicled:

1. Varney Sherman, LAP & UP Merger: In many of his own utterances, he has boasted of his enormous wealth, which places him in the ranks of some of America’s Multi-Millionaires. How much he is worth is unknown, but he is generally believed to worth millions. According to some he is one of Liberia’s richest men! His Law Firm, Sherman and Sherman, represents a substantial number of the multinational Corporations in Liberia today, including mining giant, Arcelor Mittal, and oil giant, Chevron. There has been numerous reports in the Liberian press, that part of the merger deal between Sherman’s Liberia Action Party(LAP) and the Unity party(UP, was to ensure that his firm be provided with this privilege and access to the MNCs. As party chief of the New Unity Party, Mr. Sherman has lived up to his trademark by purchasing 36 Chevrolet Pick Up Trucks for the his party’s campaign. FrontPageAfrica online magazine reported in its July’s edition, though unverified, that the New Unity Party has budgeted $23Million for its 2011 Campaign.

2. Liberty Party and CDC Failed Merger: This potential merger collapsed after it was alleged that the Liberty party reneged on its promise to provide the Congress of Democratic Change of Ambassador George Weah the amount of $180,000. However, in separate but similar explanations, each side stated that both Weah and Brumskine could not agree on a leadership formula of who would serve in a Presidential and Vice Presidential capacity. Meanwhile, both political parties and leaders have yet to dispute the money allegation. But in a recent interview with AllAfrica.Com, Mr. Brumskine stated that the merger collapsed due to dissimilarity of “common values”.

3. CDC and Winston Tubman: To have been elected Standard Bearer of the CDC, it was widely discussed that Counselor Winston Tubman agreed to make available $2 million to fund the CDC campaign. According to those in CDC’s circle, this sealed the deal for Ambassador Weah surrendering his party to Tubman and agreeing to lower his ambition to that of a Vice Presidential running mate. But Tubman in a recent interview with the FPA magazine denied any such arrangement or deal. But Mr. Weah has not disputed these allegations.

4. The New Deal Movement and Dew Mayson: Part of Ambassador Mayson’s unilateral suspension as Standard Bearer of the New Deal movement by 2 officials of its Executive Committee has been attributed to his failure to provide $200,000 to its leadership. Since lifting his suspension and restoring his Standard Bearership, The New Deal has vehemently denied that Mayson’s suspension had anything to do with money. Ambassador Mayson has rejected similar charges.

5. The NDC, NPP, and NDPL: Both the NPP and the NDPL have reportedly abandoned and pulled out of the newly-formed National Democratic Coalition(NDC), due to the lack of financial and material support from its Standard Bearer, Ambassador Dew Mayson. It is reported that the NDPL leadership under the direction of Dr. Moses C. T. Jarbo, was swayed by money from the ruling party to the tune of half a million dollars. Dr. Jarbo has yet to dispute these allegations.

6. The Liberian Legislature: Always serving its self-interest, rather than the interest of the Liberian people, recently passed a bill, increasing the monetary requirements for seeking public office.

From this picture, it is clear that the unchecked influence of money has heavily penetrated Liberian politics. This raises a number of critical questions that needs to be addressed: To what extent should political parties be allowed to raise and spend funds as they like? How much information about party finance should the voter be entitled to have? And how far should public resources b used to support and develop political parties? To date, none of the political parties has announced or made it public information what their Campaign Budgets are. The parties have also not stated the source of their funding or how monies for their campaign are being raised. At the minimum, the Liberian electorate is entitled to know how parties are raising monies to support their campaigns so that it informs their decision-making process. The other layer of concern has to do with the legitimacy of monies being raised. Are their adequate laws, election laws in place to ensure that the Liberian election is not being purchased by the highest bidder? For example, some parties have indicated that their financial support is coming from outside the country; if this is the case, does this violate the laws governing campaign fundraising? What guarantees are in place that the Liberian voter will not be disused by a party that comes to power that has received strong international financial backing? How will this impact the party’s policy-making process?

Some parties have also indicated that most of their support is coming from Liberians living in the Diaspora. One candidate, Counselor Winston Tubman of the CDC, has stated that their financial support base will come from Liberians living in Philadelphia and Staten Island; another party, Liberty Party of Charles Brumskine, supporters living in Minnesota is organizing a Fundraising Dinner and Forum on August 6, 2011, to assist their party Standard Bearer. While the USA supporters of the ruling New Unity Party, have developed an elaborate strategy for raising money all across the United States. This month, the UP generated well over $6,000 at a fundraiser held in Atlanta, Georgia during the installation ceremonies of its Georgia chapter. The party has also purchased 36 Chevy Pick Up trucks that have been priced at $30,000 each. One other presidential candidate, Mr. T.Q. Harris, recently assaulted by armed robbers, reported that the robbers took away US $40,000 from his home in the Paynesville area. Mr. Harris, now Standard Bearer and presidential candidate of the Freedom Alliance Party of Liberia (FPAL), also reported that this would be the seventh time that he and members of his party has been robbed of financial and material possessions. In severing his ties with Senator Prince Johnson’s National Union Progress Party(???), Senator Abel Massaley, senior senator from Grand Cape Mount county, stated that he had personally spent more than $30,000, to assist in the formation of this party.

In a country like Liberia with less than 4 million people, having more than 22 political parties and, with huge disparities in financial resources, this makes many of the parties vulnerable to money buying political influence. Furthermore, for parties lacking in resources, this prevents certain groups and leaders from achieving political participation through representation. Clearly, if this process is not regulated and this trend persists, Liberia may be denied some of its best leaders who simply lack the financial capacity to participate in a money-driven process.

Given that money is a necessary cost to democracy, it is necessary that adequate laws be put in place to ensure that money does not buy political influence. Laws are also needed to level the playing field. What does it say about our politics when one party has the wherewithal to buy 36 Pick UP trucks and another can only buy one or none at all? Campaign 2011 can level the playing field by providing Free Media time, Free use of Public buildings, and Free transportation for the elderly and to those inaccessible, to go to the polls on election day.

In developing countries and fragile democracies, there is a growing view and it is being explored, that one way of leveling the playing field and strengthening the political process, is to provide public resources, funding to viable political parties. Because political parties in countries like Liberia and others, lack the financial resources during and after elections, it is argued that governments should make budgetary allocations to develop political parties and improve the political process. Accordingly, this would ensure that the incumbent or ruling party does not have the predominant advantage, while opposition political parties can provide a sufficient counter-balance. Parties, however, have to meet certain stringent requirements, including demonstrating strength in membership and transparency in managing its resources, among others. While there is no example of any developing country where this has been tried and tested, this is a novel idea that has enormous possibilities and potential. With its weak democratic foundations, Liberia can lead the way in experimenting with such an idea, to revitalize its political process and reduce the influence of money now heavily creeping into our political fabric with negative consequences.

© 2011 by The Perspective

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