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How will the budget money be distributed for the regular work of the parties, and what do the reports on the financing of the presidential campaign show

The announcement of the results of the parliamentary elections, three months after they were completed in the vast majority of polling stations, will significantly change the parties' financial position. In the first half of 2022, about 691 million dinars from the Serbian budget were already distributed to parties based on the 2020 election results. In addition to the ruling SNS, SPS-JS and minority parties, parties from the electoral lists UPS, NADA, Moramo, ZZV, Zavetnici and Dveri will participate in the distribution of the budget money starting in August. Those parties will receive a total of about 45 million dinars per month. This means that the three-month extension of the election process affected the distribution of about 135 million dinars from the budget. For the same reason, the payment of 592 million dinars allocated from the budget for financing the election campaign and payment of costs to the media and other service providers for the campaign was also delayed. The reports on financing the parliamentary elections will be available in August instead of May this year.

Suppose the new convocation of the parliament lasts for four years, and the budget does not significantly change. In that case, the parliamentary parties will have over 47 million euros at their disposal during that period, of which about 20,5 million belong to the SNS and the parties from its list, about six million to the SPS-JS, about 2,7 million to minority parties, and 17,8 million to five new parliamentary lists [1]. The SNS and their political partners will receive more than 50 million dinars per month from the Serbian budget to finance their regular work. In comparison, the SPS and JS will receive 14.6 million dinars. When the coalition agreements are implemented, most new parliamentary parties will count on around three to six million dinars per month. For example, UPS, which is made up of four major and several smaller parties, owns 17,1 million per month; two partners in the NADA coalition will share 7,7 million dinars; Zavetnici will receive 5,8 million; members of the Moramo coalition almost seven million, and Dveri and his partners almost six million dinars.

Official reports on the financing of the campaign for the presidential elections confirm the findings of the apparent dominance of the candidates of the ruling party in relation to all others, which are a consequence of the legal rules on the distribution of funds from the budget for campaign financing, as well as the absence of limits on campaign expenses. According to these data, 73% of the total reported expenses refer to the campaign for Aleksandar Vučić, and only 27% for the six other candidates. The trend of pronounced dominance and concentration of financial power of the candidates of the ruling party was thus further strengthened compared to the previous presidential elections, from 2017, when 40% of the reported expenses went to the other candidates.

Of the eight participants in these elections, only the group of citizens who proposed Miša Vacić did not submit either the final or the preliminary financial report. The Agency for the Prevention of Corruption has not yet announced whether it initiated misdemeanour proceedings or reports for a criminal offence, which exist when information about the funding source and the amount of campaign expenses is intentionally hidden.

The winner's campaign was financed with 645 million from the budget, and SNS transferred another 59 million from the party's permanent account, which also came almost entirely from budget grants for the regular work of this party. Five years ago, in addition to the SNS campaign budget, SNS used 274.5 million dinars from 6,940 payments from citizens (mainly 40 thousand dinars each).

Out of 963 million officially spent money, less than seven per cent was paid from real private sources (contributions). This year, the financial reports did not record significant expenses that remained unpaid.

Almost 2/3 of all costs went to advertising, while promotional materials and public events account for 10% each, and "other costs" with a high 17%. Advertising on TV stations is still dominant, accounting for over half of all reported expenditures (521 million dinars).

When comparing the reported costs with the TS findings [2], it can be concluded that most of the observed advertising costs on TV stations are reported, but there are also some significant differences. They can be partly attributed to the fact that TV Happy did not publish its discount list but also to the fact that the cost for several leased time slots broadcast in this campaign was not separately stated in the financial reports, although there is a column for that. For billboards, significantly fewer costs were reported compared to the TS estimate. From the proposers of the presidential candidates' reports, their advertising costs on Facebook were not visible, although they possibly stated it in other items. Since, in practice, parties often arbitrarily share costs among various campaigns held simultaneously, only after the report's publication for the parliamentary elections will it be evident whether some expenses of the election campaign remained hidden.

In the preliminary reports on the financing of the presidential campaign, which were supposed to show the situation up to 15 days before the elections, a total of 107.6 million dinars of expenses were reported; that is, only 11.17% of the total costs of the campaign. This indicates that the preliminary reports were incomplete and did not contain data on all expenses incurred until March 19, 2022. This confirms TS's warnings - that the concept of preliminary reports, as set out in the Law, would not provide adequate transparency in the financing of the campaign while it lasts. When it comes to the winning candidate's campaign, the expenses shown in the preliminary report make up less than 7% of the total costs of the campaign.

All this leads us to conclude that the concept of preliminary reports needs to be significantly improved so that oblige parties to record all commitments for advertising and other activities in the campaign until the reporting date, regardless of whether they have already been paid. Of course, it would be much better to adopt the concept of "open accounts" that exists and works in the Czech Republic, which ensures transparency of campaign financing on a day-to-day basis.

[1] Details, graphs and tables:

[2]Details, graphs and tables: