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Campaign Corruption ‘Performs Better’ in Hungary

Campaign Corruption ‘Performs Better’ in Hungary

Transparency International Hungary (TI), K-Monitor and Átlátszó.hu monitored the campaign expenses of political parties for several months. Even the experienced NGOs were shocked by the fact that parliamentary parties have exceeded the spending limit set by the law by HUF 3.5 billion. With the exception of Politics Can Be Different (LMP), every political party and alliance exceeded the limit. Sham parties also profited from the campaign: out of the 4 billion state subsidy, they could not account for 3.6 billion. All in all, the elections were free but not fair. Detailed data about each party’s campaign spending can be accessed at

The electoral campaign is over and TI and its partners have come out with the final estimations. According to the NGOs’ campaign monitor, the Fidesz-KDNP coalition in itself spent 2.78 billion on the campaign. The left-leaning opposition Kormányváltás (“Change of government”) alliance spent 1.6 billion, while the respective numbers for Jobbik and LMP are 1.2 billion and 730 million. As a reminder: the legal limit of campaign expenses was 995 million of which up to 700 million may come from the state budget. Transparency International’s program calculating campaign expenses has examined each and every campaign tool.

Fidesz: the champion of overspending

The Fidesz party alone (that is, without governmental and NGO advertising) spent 2.8 billion, thus exceeding the maximum spending limit by 180%. An additional 1.1 billion came from CÖF (Civil Alliance Forum, a government organized civil society organization) and governmental propaganda.

During the whole campaign period, CÖF spent 600 million campaigning in favour of Fidesz, while the government used up more than 500 million for promoting that “Hungary performs better”. The Supreme Court (also referred to as the Curia) of Hungary also reinforced TI’s stance that this is a hidden advertisement of the Fidesz party. Thus, the government’s overall campaign spending amounted to almost 4 billion Hungarian Forints.

As expected, public billboards represented the biggest and most expensive campaign item. In accordance with the effective law on campaign financing, billboard tariffs may be kept in secret by the parties. Fidesz spent 1.1 billion on billboards, which is more than the amount they were entitled to spend for the whole campaign. Fidesz’s campaign was further funded by billboard advertisements of CÖF (500 million) and the government (430 million). All in all, more than 2 billion were spent on billboards promoting the governing parties. As for the other parties’ spending on billboards, Jobbik spent 664 million, while Kormányváltás and LMP spent 519 and 317 million respectively.

Sham parties: enormous expenditures

The new regulation on campaign financing which introduced a generous state support in campaign funding had another foreseeable consequence ― the appearance of several small parties. The state spent nearly 6 billion for the support of 18 party lists, of which business parties received almost 4 billion. According to the calculations, although, fake parties spent only 370 million altogether, and 90% of the abundant state support cannot be accounted for.

Weak regulation, no control

“The new campaign financing law, introduced in 2014 for the general elections, has failed because it cannot guarantee transparency and verifiability”, said Miklós Ligeti, legal director of TI. “We do not know the origins of Fidesz’s extra 2 billion, CÖF’s 600 million and Jobbik’s and Kormányváltás’s source of overspending during the campaign.” Ligeti highlighted that the law which came into effect on 1 January not only allows the campaigning activities of pseudo-civils (such as CÖF), but also overlooks government propaganda. The 500 million spent on government canvassing was covered by taxpayers.

Sham parties, likely to have run at the elections only for the generous allowance provided by the state, are likely to keep around 3 billion worth of public funds. What is more, since none of the business parties acquired any mandate (more than a dozen sham parties together could not get 4% of the votes), they are unlikely to be scrutinized by the Court of Auditors. This is because Hungarian Court of Auditors does not investigate into the spending of unsuccessful ‘sham parties’ ex officio, but only in reported cases. However, reports can be made only by other parties which run at the elections, and evidence proving the irregular spending has to be submitted as well.

Although NGOs are not allowed to initiate the scrutiny of the parties’ campaign spending, TI and its partners have decided to reveal all the data on campaign monitoring to the Court of Auditors and we will ask the authority to take these data into consideration during the examination of the parties’ reports.

Vote tourism, suspicious registrations and recommendation sheet fraud

“Beside unequal campaign spending, vote tourism might also have influenced the outcome of the elections”, said Tamás Bodoky, chief editor of  The investigative portal has found suspicious declarations of residence in several municipalities. In Abaújlak, managed to get the county’s local administrative office scrutinize the nominally registered persons. Hungarian voters living abroad were influenced with the help of huge amounts of public funds. Átlátszó and Transindex have proved in their series of investigative articles that Hungarian state-owned enterprises contributed with hundreds of millions to the Transylvanian Fidesz campaign. The new system of candidate recommendations also failed at the elections: lots of reports were submitted to Átlátszó about the mass copying of business parties’ recommendation notes.

European Parliamentary elections: no rules, nothing to infringe

The three NGOs do not monitor the EP elections since the law on campaign financing does not extend to the EP elections’ campaign. Therefore, because of the ‘no rule, no infringement’ principle, no irregular campaign financing can be proven, highlighted Ligeti.
Joining the initiative of the TI’s European Union Liaison Office, TI Hungary has created a Anti-corruption pledge which will be sent to each Hungarian MEP candidate. By signing the Memorandum, candidates commit themselves to set an example in ethical lobbying, responsible public funds spending and the protection of whistleblowers.

Anti-corruption minimum program

The three NGOs have drafted a 6-item list of minimum requirements for a more successful fight against corruption. So far, more than 1100 people and 21 NGOs have joined the initiative. Furthermore, two parties, namely Együtt-PM and DK have committed themselves to the initiative’s goals. Among others, the list includes enhancing transparency of party and campaign financing, improving transparency of public procurement procedures, the publicity of state contracts, actual social consultation in the legislative processes and the elimination of the excessive limitation in the freedom of information.

“The new Parliament has to make steps towards a more effective regulation of the asset declaration system, because – as the assets declaration scandals of Gábor Simon and Antal Rogán have also pointed to –  the current system completely fails to fulfil its functions”, said Áron Varga, programme director of K-monitor. According to the expert, untrue assets declarations should be severely sanctioned; even imprisonment could be taken into consideration.

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