A commission headed by former United Nations secretary-general Kofi
Annan charges that the soaring cost of U.S. elections is a major
hindrance to democracy. The charge appears in a report published Friday
by the Global Commission on Elections and Democracy, which says its goal
is to promote the integrity of elections.
Former United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan spoke to VOA at the
launch of the report in London.
He says each nation must develop an election framework that suits its
"There are certain fundamental issues or fundamental requirements, which
each country should try to respect. Beyond that they know their society
better, they know their environment better and they may come up with
approaches that work for them. You cannot expect everyone to solve the
same problems the same way," Annan said.
In the report published Friday, the commission laid out what it sees as
prerequisites for elections to take place with "integrity."
The 12-member commission includes former U.S. Secretary of State
Madeleine Albright and former secretary general of the Council of the
European Union, Javier Solana.
Also on the panel is Vidar Helgesen, head of the International Institute
for Democracy and Electoral Assistance.
"The world has seen over the last 20 years a considerable rise of
democracy and correspondingly a considerable rise in the number of
elections. But we have also seen that while governments and the
international community has gotten better at organizing elections,
authoritarian leaders have also become better at rigging elections and
they do that in more advanced ways," Helgesen said.
The report says there are five major challenges that must be overcome
for elections to have integrity. They include an effective rule of law;
strong, impartial electoral management bodies to oversee the vote; and
regulated political financing.
Helgesen singles out the United States as a country where, he says,
uncontrolled political financing is a problem. He says soaring costs are
undermining citizens' trust in their system.
"The American people through credible opinion polls have indicated that
the problem is on the rise. Two-thirds of the American people say that
their trust in the political system has been weakened by the recent
developments in political financing - the Super PACS.
Even more people think that politicians can more easily become corrupted
and Congress is to a large extent representing special interests rather
than the holistic interests of society," Helgesen said.
Spending in the U.S. has been boosted by a 2010 Supreme Court ruling
that effectively scrapped limits on corporate and union spending in
elections. Now Super PACs, or political action committees, and
tax-exempt advocacy groups can support candidates without a cap on
spending, as long as they do not coordinate with official campaigns.
in the U.S. who advocate increased spending on elections say it helps
Paul Sherman is an attorney at the Institute for Justice, a libertarian
law firm based in the United States. He says high campaign spending
means a more informed electorate.
"By having reduced regulations on campaign finance it makes it easier
for more different types of voices to get in so we don't have a
political debate that is dominated entirely by the central parties
themselves," Sherman said.
The Global Commission on Elections, Democracy and Security is an
international initiative aimed at promoting the integrity of elections.
It was launched in South Africa last year.
Funding for the report came from the Kofi Annan Foundation, the
International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, along
with the governments of Australia, the Netherlands, and Norway.