When the National Elections Institute ruled that political parties could keep the 286 million pesos in public funds that they didn’t spend during the June midterms, some citizens decided enough was enough. Two injunctions have been filed demanding that the parties reimburse the unspent millions, as required by law.
Public opinion polls indicate that political parties are among the least trusted institutions in Mexico. So when the National Elections Institute (INE) ruled last month that parties could keep the public campaign funds that they did not spend during the midterm election campaigns, some people decided to take action.
The anti-corruption NGO Transparencia Mexicana and 32 citizens last week filed two injunctions against the INE ruling, calling on the courts to require that the parties reimburse the Treasury. The money in question is no pittance. The total amount of public funds the injunctions demand should be returned – as required by law – is 286 million pesos.
This is the first time that private citizens have filed an injunction against a decision by the INE, in the filing declaring the matter “of legitimate public interest.” The case could find its way to the Supreme Court and a positive ruling could establish a significant precedent for public cases against political institutions.
On July 20, INE overruled a recommendation from its Audit Committee that the funds be returned to the Treasury. The 6-5 decision was supported by an INE statement that said the parties could use the money as they see fit, since INE was not authorized to “confiscate” the money form the parties.
Morena – a newly formed leftist party – appealed the ruling on July 29 and the matter has automatically been turned over to the Federal Elections Tribunal (Trife) for a final decision.
But Transparencia Mexicana and private citizens said enough is enough and on Aug. 13, two separate injunctions were filed arguing that the Constitution mandates that the unspent money must be returned.
Luis Pérez de Acha, a lawyer who signed on to one of the injunctions, said that if the injunction is upheld, the parties would either have to reimburse the Treasury or have the unspent funds subtracted from future public funding outlays.
The respective courts are expected to decide on Tuesday whether or not to hear the case. If the district courts reject the injunctions, it is expected that the case will be taken to the Supreme Court.
“We believe that we must continue to follow legal institutional procedures to voice the general rejection of how the political parties spent profligately and with impunity, instead of simply griping about from a barstool,” Pérez de Acha told the Spanish-language news site Animal Político.
INE councilor Marco Antonio Baños explained that the INE decision was primarily based on a lack of legal certainty. “Although the law establishes that the public funds in question can only be used for specific electoral purposes, there are no clear rules in place to verify all the campaign spending nor is there a procedure established about how the unspent money is to be reimbursed,” he said.
Article 41 of the Constitution stipulates three types of public funding for parties: 1. For ordinary party activities; 2. For informational campaigns, political and electoral training and research activities; and, 3. For elections.
Article 134 of the Constitution specifies that public funds can only be spent on the activity for which it was earmarked.
“If the parties keep the unspent campaign funds, they essentially are violating Article 134 because they would be using these earmarked election funds for ordinary political activity or training and research,” said Pérez de Acha. “And only the Chamber of Deputies has the authority to decide the use of earmarked funds, the parties can’t re-route the funds on a whim.”
A precedent in public education
Pérez de Acha says the two injunctions are based on the belief that this decision is “of legitimate public interest.”
It was on this legal principle that Mexicanos Primero won a case in front of the Supreme Court in June. When the Education Secretariat suspended legally mandated teacher evaluations the NGO Mexicanos Primero declared that they had a “legitimate public interest in protecting the rights of third parties who were affected by the suspension.” The Supreme Court agreed and ordered the Education Secretariat to adhere to the law.
Transparencia Mexicana argued that this effectively amounts to corruption since parties are getting public funds and using them for their own purpose regardless of the legal restrictions on how the money is spent. They claimed the principle of “legitimate public interest” in their court filing. The other injunction argues that the Trife is only authorized to handle cases related to the right to vote, the right to stand for election and political coalition cases.
“The INE is not empowered to change how earmarked public funds can be spent,” said Pérez de Acha. “They effectively violated the Constitution and the U.N. Convention against Corruption, as well as the U.N. Declaration on the Right to Development. In addition, they have violated the public’s right to judicial review.”
According to figures calculated by INE councilor Benito Nacif, the chair of the Audit Committee, the political parties failed to spend 286.4 million pesos earmarked for the election campaign.
The breakdown by party is as follows:
Institutional Revolutionary Party-Green Party coalition: 155.9 million pesos
National Action Party: 42 million pesos
Party of the Democratic Revolution-Labor Party coalition: 22.4 million pesos
Party of the Democratic Revolution (in local elections): 16.8 million pesos
Morena: 18 million pesos
Humanist Party: 11 million pesos
Institutional Revolutionary Party-Green Party-New Alliance Party(in Sonora state elections): 8.9 million pesos
New Alliance Party: 6 million pesos
Labor Party: 5.2 million pesos
Social Encounter Party: 3 million pesos
Ironically, the criticism of party trustworthiness and allegations of corruption come on the same day the Chamber of Deputies released a survey on public trust of institutions. The poll released today showed that only 22 percent of those surveyed have faith in Mexico’s political parties, while 75 percent had little to no faith. This was up from last year when the results showed only 69 percent of the public trusted the political parties.
The survey showed that trust in INE remained unchanged the past two years, but only 38 percent of those polled indicated they had confidence in INE.
– research and reporting by Nayeli Roldán