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Ukraine: Money Flows Into Parliamentary Election Campaign

By Katya Gorchinskaya and Tiffany Carlsen

Kyiv, 27 March 1998 (RFE/RL) -- From TV ads to tractor giveaways, help with funeral expenses and reports of outright bribes -- Ukrainian parties and candidates have found plenty of uses for campaign funds, both legal and apparently illegal.

Of the 30 parties contesting Sunday's parliamentary election, 23 filed the mandatory campaign spending reports last week with Ukraine's Central Election Committee (CEC), listing combined expenditures of 7.9 million hryvnia (about $4 million). Political analysts say that sum represents only a small fraction of the actual amounts spent in the course of the campaign.

Last week, President Leonid Kuchma described the level of campaign spending as "mad." Kuchma, who has said he expects his leftist opponents to do well Sunday, has repeatedly charged that organized crime is using the vote to buy its way into power.

Yet it was the People's Democratic Party, supported by Kuchma and led by Prime Minister Valery Pustovoitenko, that reported the highest campaign spending to the CEC - a total of 1.9 million hryvnia (nearly $1 million). It was followed by the Green Party, an ostensibly environmentalist group tied to powerful Ukrainian business executives, which reported 1.1 million hryvnia (about $500,000) in spending. The nationalist Rukh Party did not file a campaign spending report by the deadline, but party officials had said they planned to spend 1.5 million hryvnia.

By contrast, the parties most critical of Kuchma's administration reported the least campaign spending.

The Communist Party, expected to emerge as the top party in the election, claimed to have spent a mere 25,000 hryvnia (about $13,000). Another major leftist force, the Socialist/Peasant bloc of Parliament Chairman Oleksandr Moroz, reported expenditures of 107,000 hryvnia (about $55,000). Another opposition party, Hromada, which is led by former prime minister Pavlo Lazarenko and Yulia Timoshenko, the former chairman of Ukraine's mighty Unified Energy Systems, reported just 190,000 hyrvnia (about $100,000) in campaign expenditures.

Ukrainian political analysts tell RFE/RL that all the party campaign spending reports are highly questionable.

The blitz of political advertising on Ukrainian television channels offers another clue that the parties' spending reports do not add up.

The Social Democratic Party of Ukraine (united), led by former prime minister Yevhen Marchuk, former president Leonid Kravchuk and Dynamo Kyiv owner Hryhory Surkis, reported spending 530,000 hryvnia (about $266,000) for the entire campaign. But, one independent media survey found that the party advertised for 58 minutes on one channel in the first half of March alone. The cost of those ads alone was close to 800,000 hryvnia (about $400,000), during one two-week period. The party also advertised on two other TV channels during those two weeks monitored. The party told RFE/RL that the report it filed with authorities was only "partial," and that a final spending report would be filed after the election, although there is no clear mechanism for doing so.

Then, there were reported large, undocumented contributions by wealthy business people "buying" a place on a party ticket, in order to try to win a prestigious parliamentary seat. Estimates of the cost of such a place on a party ticket ranged as high as two million dollars.

An independent election-monitoring group reported an example of smaller scale "vote buying." The group says candidates in one election district accused rivals of "systematically buying voters by giving them expensive presents, from bricks to computer equipment for schools ... and even providing funeral services."

The election-monitoring group cited a case involving the district in which Parliament Chairman Moroz and several other candidates are running, in which rivals were reported to have provided farm machinery and fuel to local farms. All denied involvement. Analysts note that attempts to "buy" votes meet with mixed success. They say that in the 1994 elections, about 60 percent of candidates who spent a lot of money during the election campaign did not get into Parliament - while, no fewer than 20 deputies who had spent only about $300 won a seat in Parliament.

The voting four years ago was conducted under a widely ignored restriction that limited candidates to spending no more about $1,700. The new election law adopted last Autumn abolished that curb, replacing it with a prohibition on foreign contributions and instituting a reporting requirement. But the new law contains loopholes, such as the one not barring contributions by joint ventures founded with the participation of foreign firms. And it does not require parties to report such common in-kind contributions as rent-free premises, paper supplies and printing services.