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There has been a rash of supposedly non-affiliated organisations campaigning for one or other of the main parties this year. This practice could lead to complete circumvention of campaign finance laws.

Magyar Vizsla and The Victor 2 - in one respect they are both the same publication. The authors and publishers want to influence the outcome of the spring elections, even though they are not part of campaign itself. Traditionally, the way such activities are seen depends on your point of view. The victim of the attack cries foul, while the camp that benefits from the action praises freedom of speech. There is no question that such publications must be permitted in a free country, and they can always be sued. But it is also true that if they force themselves into the campaign, then they can make make for a dirty election.

The law of 1989 makes parties the central actors in the electoral struggle: apart from independent candidates, only parties can make a bid for a parliamentary mandate. For this reason, campaign finance laws only relate to parties. Only they are obliged to give an account of their income and expenditure to the authorities. That there was a shortcoming in this was discovered very quickly - and the parties made use of the loophole. Outside campaigners were being roped in as early as 1994, thus evading spending restrictions or public disclosure requirements.

But their role has changed radically. Today, these organisations are used to conduct negative campaigns, whereas they were previously used to collect money and to ease the burden on the parties' bank balances. In 2002, especially after the first round, these manoeuvres were used to prove the extent of social support for one party or another: associations and private individuals placed adverts declaring their support for a particular party.

Outsourcing brings many benefits. One - and by no means the most important - is that if a campaigning move goes badly, party leaders can wash their hands of the affair, claiming the move was a spontaneous act by private citizens. This was Viktor Orban's response to one of Magyar Vizsla's radio adverts. The 2002 experience also shows that the device helps parties to stay within the HUF386m campaigning budget ceiling that was imposed in 1997. It seems unlikely that either the Socialists or Fidesz managed on HUF399m each four years ago, since the parties spent HUF519m and HUF481 respectively on advertising alone. Even in in last year's pre-campaigning season, the Socialists spent HUF462.8m and Fidesz HUF199.5m on advertising. The back-up troops can help here: they are not obliged to account for their expenditures.

There are drawbacks as well. Since they are not official participants in the campaign, these organisations are not exempt from tax office investigations - as parties are in campaign season - and nor do they enjoy the right to organise an election rally without first registering their plan with the police.
HVG English version

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hvg.hu English version

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