Decision of the CEC Chair may encourage political corruption
On July 26, 2016, the Chair of the Central Election Commission rejected ISFED’s complaint over violation of campaigning rules by the Georgian Dream – Healthy Future, and terminated administrative proceedings.
On July 2 ISFED filed with the CEC over free medical examinations provided to public school teachers by the Georgian Dream – Healthy Future and the Head of the Georgian Dream’s Chughureti Office. In addition, representative of the party Rima Beridze personally attended the charity event while the charity organization Georgian Dream – Healthy Future uses a logo similar to that of the Georgian Dream – Democratic Georgia (colors and graphics are very similar). The organization also uses party symbols in its name. Clearly, it is working to advance interests of the Georgian Dream – Democratic Georgia. Article 2(z8) of the Election Code defines canvassing as an “appeal to voters in favour of or against an electoral subject/candidate, as well as any public action facilitating or impeding its election and/or containing signs of election campaign, including the participation in organisation/conduct of pre-electoral events, preservation or dissemination of election materials, work on the list of supporters, presence in the representations of political parties.”
Georgian Dream – Healthy Future carries out charity work, as shown by a number of media reports also available on the official Facebook page of the organization. This is in violation of the requirement of Article 45(4g) of the Election Code of Georgia stipulating that charity organizations are prohibited from participating in election campaign (canvassing).
According to the resolution of the CEC Chair, it is true that “Georgian Dream – Healthy Future carries out charity work but it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is a charity organization and is subject to the prohibition foreseen by Article 45(4g) of the Election Code of Georgia.
Under the resolution of the CEC chair, charity organization stated in Article 45(4g) of the Election Code of Georgia is an organization that has been given a status of a charity organization under Article 32 of the Georgian Tax Code. Because non-profit organization Georgian Dream – Healthy Future is not registered in the register of charity organizations available on the official website of the Ministry of Finance of Georgia, it has not been given the status of a charity organization. Therefore, it is not subject to the prohibition foreseen by Article 45(4g) of the Election Code of Georgia.
ISFED believes that the above interpretation of the legal provision by the CEC Chair is unreasonably narrow. It will encourage political parties to pursue charity activities through non-profit organizations. It will enable non-profit organizations to engage in direct or indirect canvassing on behalf of political parties, which is a dangerous form of political corruption.
ISFED believes that whether an organization is registered as a charity organization with a tax agency is not decisive for electoral purposes. Rather, the registration is used for tax purposes, for receiving tax exemptions. Therefore, registration with a tax agency is a charity organization’s right, not an obligation. The above interpretation of the law may allow similar organizations not to register with the tax agency in order to participate in illegal canvassing bypass requirements of Article 45(4g) of the Election Code of Georgia.
Based on the spirit of the above provision, any organization that carries out charity activities must be viewed as a charity organization for purposes of the Election Code, not only the ones that are registered with the tax agency.
ISFED believes that Provision of free medical examinations to public school teachers by Majoritarian Member of Sakrebulo Rima Beridze and the non-profit legal entity Georgian Dream – Healthy Future that uses symbols and the name of the political party Georgian Dream – Democratic Georgia amounts to campaigning in favor of the party. Georgian Dream – Healthy Future carries out charity activities while using political party’s symbols and name, an in presence of political party representatives, which is a violation of requirements of Article 45(4g) of the Election Code of Georgia.