Report Cites US as Example of World's Failing Democracies

Protesters unveil a banner at the Lincoln Memorial in 2010 to protest the Citizens United ruling. The Annan report criticises the ruling for shaking Americans' confidence in the political process. (Photograph: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Report Cites US as Example of World's Failing Democracies

International commission warns of growing influence of money in politics and attempts to suppress voter turnout

An international commission led by former UN chief Kofi Annan warns that the world's democracies, and the United States specifically, are being corrupted by the increasingly strong role of "uncontrolled, undisclosed, illegal and opaque" financing of political campaigns.

The report by the commission, staffed with former world leaders and Nobel prize laureates, stipulated that powerful financial institutions and the surging influence of money in politics was harmful to both emerging and more developed democracies across the globe. "The rise uncontrolled political finance," warned the report, "threatens to hollow out democracy everywhere and rob democracy of its unique strengths".

The Global Commission on Elections, Democracy and Security is presenting its finding today in London.

Regarding elections in the US, the commission's report, Deepening Democracy: a Strategy for Improving the Integrity of Elections Worldwide,took special issue with the Supreme Court's ruling in the Citizens United case.

Citizens United has "undermined political equality, weakened transparency of the electoral process and shaken citizen confidence in America's political institutions and elections", the report said.

According to the Guardian, the report criticizes individual states "which have sought to introduce voter identification laws and other measures that have the effect of suppressing African American participation in the political process."

And the Guardian adds:

Vidar Helgessen, secretary general of International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, said that US system was cited as just one example of flaws in democracies worldwide. But, he said the US, as the most powerful nation in the world, had a responsibility to set an example.

"If a vast majority of citizens say the systems is undermining political equality and weakening transparency of the electoral process, then there is an issue of trust in the government," he said.

Political finance was an important issue which had not received the attention and reform it deserved, he said.

"We are seeing increasing inequality and we are in a global economic recession and it is an issue that will only grow. It is not only in new and emerging democracies that provide challenges and have elections that lack integrity"

The report cited a national survey this year by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University law school, which found a majority of people believe nominally independent Super Pacs to be a danger to democracy.

"Nearly two-thirds of Americans said that they trust government less because big donors have more influence over election officials than average Americans," the report said.

It concluded that, although Super Pacs must disclose their contributors and may not coordinate directly with candidates by law, in practice, "both constraints have been flouted".

The report, again with a global perspective, provides a comprehensive series of recommendations to strengthen electoral processes and norms in all nations. Specific measures include:

  • National Electoral Management Bodies (EMBs) should create a global certification process to evaluate and grade EMBs on their professionalism, independence and competence, including a code of conduct
  • Urgent attention must be given to address the growing threat to democracy posed by financing of political campaigns, parties and candidates by transnational organised crime
  • Domestic election observers should commit to global standards through the Global Network of Domestic Election Monitors
  • A new transnational civil society organization - "Electoral Integrity International" - should be created to bring global attention to countries that succeed or fail in organizing elections with integrity
  • Governments and donors need to prioritise funding and political engagement throughout the entire electoral cycle of countries with problematic elections, supporting necessary dialogue and citizen participation as well as technical improvements
  • Regional organisations must create and communicate "red lines" of egregious electoral malpractice that would trigger immediate multilateral condemnation and sanction if crossed

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