Political parties splurge on ads for presidential candidates
The election campaign is in full swing in Ukraine — six weeks before the official start, and the political parties’ latest financial reports for July to September offer a glimpse into how much some potential candidates are already spending on the race to be president.
According to figures the parties filed with the National Agency for Corruption Prevention (NAZK) Batkivshchyna party leader Yulia Tymoshenko spent over Hr 72 million ($2.6 million) on billboards and television commercials.
Political parties have to file quarterly financial reports with NAZK in order to receive state funding.
Lawmaker Oleg Lyashko spent the money his Radical Party received from the state on advertising on two pro-Russian TV channels that the Radical Party earlier voted to sanction.
By law, candidates have to establish election campaign funds only after the official campaign is launched on Dec. 31 and they are registered by the Central Election Commission. The amount of money spent on early campaigning does not have to be declared.
The government began to finance political parties in 2016 in order to help them become independent of rich and powerful donors — mainly oligarchs. Oleksiy Koshel, the head of the Committee of Voters of Ukraine, an election watchdog, told the Kyiv Post that state subsidies to political parties have brought positive results: they have legalized their operations and begun to develop regional networks.
The biggest spender on pre-election promotion is the Batkivshchyna Party leader, Yulia Tymoshenko. The OPORA civil network, an election-monitoring NGO, has called her the leader in outdoor advertisement, along with President Petro Poroshenko.
According to its latest financial report, the Batkivshchyna Party spent Hr 19.5 million ($700,000) on outdoor ads and over Hr 53 million ($1.9 million) on TV commercials between July and September. Tymoshenko began actively promoting her New Course for Ukraine platform this summer, so most of these funds were probably spent on this.
More specifically, Tymoshenko’s party paid some Hr 19 million ($682,000) to Global Media Group, a TV ads placement company with obscure offshore ownership. Another Hr 30 million (over $1 million) for advertising services were paid to oligarch Viktor Pinchuk’s StarLight Brand Content, which sells ads on STB, ICTV, and Novy Channel.
The money that Batkivshchyna
splurged on promotion appears to come from donors, since the party received only Hr 8 million ($287,488) from the state. The party received some Hr 71 million ($2.5 million) in contributions from individuals, and almost Hr 5 million ($179,680) from legal entities, according to its financing report.
A total of 336 people donated to the party a very similar amount of between Hr 148,000 and Hr 149,000. Koshel from the Committee of Voters of Ukraine said that the same happened during the 2014 parliamentary elections.
“This is unlikely to be a coincidence. In fact, donors may be trying to avoid an audit, as anti-money laundering laws require special monitoring of any transfer of Hr 150,000 or more,” Koshel said.
By law, the amount of funding a political party gets from the government is pegged to the number of votes it got. Hence, the People’s Front and Petro Poroshenko’s Bloc Solidarnist received Hr 33 million ($1.18 million) and Hr 32.5 million ($1.16 million) respectively.
Although President Poroshenko advertises as much as Tymoshenko, the report quotes only Hr 3.5 million ($123,523) spent on “party propaganda” with 70 percent of that sum on print services. No data on television or outdoors ads was provided.
Poroshenko’s party spent most on the services of digital strategy agency Postmen, audit and taxation consulting firm Elitconsulting, and printing house Pres Art.
However, the NAZK financial report form is imperfect and allows parties to hide some expenditures behind other categories, Koshel from the Committee of Voters of Ukraine said.
The form also doesn’t require specific information on what kind of “party propaganda” the money was spent on. Another way to hide spending is to transfer money to local party branches which, in turn, pay advertising agencies, he said.
Another potential candidate for the presidency, the Radical Party leader Oleg Lyashko, has been touring the regions more than anyone else. But his party also paid for ads on the 112 and NewsOne television channels with money received from the state. That didn’t stop lawmakers from the Radical Party from voting in favor of sanctions against those channels after they were accused of airing pro-Russian content.
Lyashko’s party spent almost Hr 13 million ($460,000) in total between July and September. Most of it was covered by state funding.
Hr 3 million ($114,883) were spent on television advertising. The financial reports showed that the party paid to Hr 900,000 to 112 Ukraina and Hr 900,000 to Novyny 24 for placing ads on NewsOne.
In October, 16 lawmakers from the 21-member Radical Party faction, including Lyashko himself, supported the sanctions against 112 and NewsOne for having “signs of Russian propaganda.”
The Samopomich party also puts a lot of money into promotion, as its leader, Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadovyi also has his eye on the Ukrainian presidency.
The party spent Hr 2.1 million ($77,100) on outdoors ads and a little over Hr 1 million ($37,400) on TV ads, predominantly on regional channels. The party also spent nearly Hr 7.5 million ($267,000) on printing services.
An ad by Arseniy Yatsenyuk, ex-prime minister and leader of the People's Front party, is seen on Lva Tolstoho Square in central Kyiv on Nov. 15. Two months before the official start of the presidential campaign, Ukrainian streets are swamped with political ads. (Oleg Petrasiuk)
An elderly woman votes at home on Nov.11, 2015, during local elections in Kyiv. While the official campaign for the next March's presidential election in Ukraine is yet to start, the leading prospective candidates are already spending heavily on political advertising. (Kostyantyn Chernichkin)