Bought, but paid for?
Simon Cameron, the 19th century U.S. financier turned politico, once quipped “An honest politician is one who, when he is bought, will stay bought.” But what if “honestly bought politicians” aren’t paid… or if they aren’t honest? Will they stay bought… or… worse, will they talk?
What will happen if they are perform their services, but their payments are frozen? This could happen, given the possibility that PRI funds meant to buy some “honest politicians” might be frozen, as Salvador Camarena reported for El País (my translation). A couple of things that might confuse U.S. readers. Mexico does have public financed elections, and our elections commission is a judicial body. I suppose, in theory, IFE could annul the election, but the probability of that is less than zero. Still — if these scandals have any teeth at all — at a minimum some low-level political hacks are going to get thrown to the wolves, and the PRI may find its financing cut for the next election cycle.
With all the odds on his favor going into Sunday’s election, PRI presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto’s election faces a hurdle that has already become a major headache for the candidate and his party. The National
Action Party (PAN) and the Progressive Movement (left) have both formally denounced what they consider illegal financial transactions that would mean that the PRI had exceeded by more than twice the legal limit the authorized expenditure for a presidential campaign.
On Monday, Roberto Gil and Juan Ignacio Zavala Zuarth, coordinators and spokesmen respectively, of the Progressive Movement and of PAN candidate Josefina Vazquez Mota reported that they had evidence of a sophisticated mechanism for making illegal payments to PRI operatives. They explained that the PRI will use 450,000 debit cards issued by Monex, a Mexican financial institution, to pay for an electoral mobilization on the First of July.
Zuarth Gil said that from what they learned from PRI operators, the scheme works like this: each district delegate (there are 300 in Mexico) received a Monex card with 180,000 pesos (10,000 Euros) for three months work. For each of the 19,490 general party representatives, the amount payable would be 20,000 pesos. The three poll representatives at the more than 149,000 ballot stations would receive 600 pesos for the day. This total paid out is around 701 million pesos (40 million Euros), or more than double the 336 million peso spending cap set by law for a presidential campaign.
“What is clear from this clearly illegal operation, is that the PRI is committing an organized crime, and we have presented the evidence to IFE [Federal Electoral Institute], in order that they can take an interim measure to freeze these accounts, so they will not be a factor in upsetting real competition in this election,” said PAN’s Gil Zuarth hours before formally lodging the complaint with the IFE early yesterday morning.
Zuarth Gil added that has twenty cards and with the testimonies of the respective operators. “This is evidence of illegal financial structure set up by Peña Nieto, through accounts not recognized by the PR, disbursed through electronic debit cards,” he said.
PAN’s denunciation comes a week after Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the candidate of the Progressive Movement and second in the polls, warned that the PRI has allegedly prepared an operation to coerce voters, and transport them to other polling stations that had been organized by the 19 PRI governors in the country.
And there is another financial story: Two weeks ago, Jose Luis Ponce de Aquino, a Mexican-American businessman filed a lawsuit in the United States against a group of businessmen and members of the Peña Nieto campaign, claiming he was owed money for alleged contracts totaling 56 million dollars (44.8 million euros), which would be paid, he said, through Monex bank. At that time, the PRI spokesman claimed that the businessman named Joseph Aquino was part of an extortion attempt.
Following up on Aquino’s complaint, the Progressive Movement filed suit with the PGR — Procurador General of the Republic (Federal Attorney General’s Office). “Given the recent events we will extend the formal complaint filed with the PGR for money laundering and illegal financing of PRI through Monex. It is necessary to freeze the accounts, “said Ricardo Monreal, Lopez Obrador’s campaign coordinator.
Electoral expert Jorge Alcocer, editor of Voz y voto, said however, that despite the statements by parties opposed to the PRI, the IFE control unit must review the terms of the complaint in accordance with established procedures. “We must distinguish between propaganda and complaints, and what I see right now is propaganda. There are times and times for this. I am aware that the parties seek to influence the public by Sunday, and do not prejudge, but what we’ve seen so far is propaganda.”