Ex-President Testifies on Financing

June 18, 2004

AMID congratulations and praise for his recent electionas secretary general of the Organization of AmericanStates (OAS), former Costa Rican President Miguel AngelRodríguez (1998-2002) yesterday testified before aLegislative Assembly commission investigating campaign financeirregularities.Rodríguez’s previously scheduled testimony was postponedin January by the commission until after his campaignfor OAS secretary general, a post for which he waselected June 7 and will begin serving Sept. 15.Neither he nor his family accepted public campaignfunds, Rodríguez told the special commission – formed inOctober 2002 to investigate anomalies in campaign financingand propose reforms to campaign-finance laws.Instead, he told congressional deputies, the funds camefrom parallel-financing structures. The controversial structures,created outside the political party to accept donations,have come under fire recently by those demandingcampaign-financing reforms.Rodríguez said the story of the funds is simple.IN 1995, a business owned by Rodriguez’s wife,Lorena Clare, lent the Social Christian Unity Party(PUSC) $595,000 (¢166 million at the time) to pay seriousdebts it had incurred in the 1994 campaign, which hehad lost.In December 2001, then-President Rodríguez receivednotice the remaining balance of this debt would be paidback through ¢100 million ($293,000 at the time) in bondsfrom the party. (In Costa Rica, political parties receive anallowance of public funds after the election based on thenumber of votes they received. These funds are to be used to pay expenses from that year’s election.)Shortly thereafter, he said, he determined“it was not worth it” to accept thebonds and returned them when he returnedfrom vacation in January 2002.RODRÍGUEZ testified that inOctober 2002, $232,000 toward the debtwas deposited in an account he had in theUnited States. These funds came from privatedonations, said Rodríguez, but addedhe did not know their source.The goal of the special legislative commissionis to understand the origin and destinationof all campaign financing, accordingto National Liberation deputy Luis GerardoVillanueva, president of the commission.One of the commission’s concerns centersaround donations from foreign individualsand companies, which is illegal forpolitical parties under Costa Rican law.Villanueva and Patriotic Bloc deputyHumberto Arce both said yesterday theystill have doubts about the origin of theseand other funds used to pay back the debts.THE commission has investigatedparallel structures that accepted donationsnot reported to the SupremeElection Tribunal used in the successful2002 PUSC campaign of President AbelPacheco and Liberation Party’s unsuccessfulbid for presidency that year (TT,Sept. 5, 2003).Rodríguez used the opportunity beforethe commission to offer his advice on campaign-finance reforms. He encouraged regulationsto require political parties to reporttheir finances to authorities on a monthlybasis.Legislative deputies said earlier thismonth it would be very difficult to have anew electoral finance plan ready before the2006 campaigns begin.Meanwhile, the Supreme ElectionsTribunal has warned that if better judicialtools are not created to control politicaldonations, the same problems will surfacein the 2006 campaigns as were present in2002.

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