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India campaign finance crisis: “black money” and booze

The Election Commission has seized narcotics like heroin and opium from 27 districts, according to reports.

India's campaign finance crisis — which makes elections a free for all of “black money” and booze — is the biggest driver of corruption in the country.

But you won't hear too many calls for increasing the limits on campaign contributions amid the clamor for an anti-corruption ombudsman, or Lokpal.

Perhaps that's because regulating campaign financing would (ostensibly) give big business a larger influence on policy, as on-the-books accounting has done in America, and the reform set has a somewhat naive view of how democracy might work.

But nothing could be worse than the current setup, where the limits on legal campaign spending are so low that parties and candidates are essentially REQUIRED to source so-called “black money” from cash-only businesses and out-and-out criminals to avoid running afoul of the Election Commission.

In other words: Instead of a company like the Tata Group — which has a public reputation to protect and is accountable to its shareholders — driving elections, nameless property dealers and the like can put candidates in their pockets.

In the Punjab, for instance, surveillance and income tax department teams seized close to $4 million in cash and confiscated over 3,600 liters of foreign liquor in the runup to elections, while Election Commission teams have intercepted and seized narcotics like heroin and opium from 27 districts, the Economic Times reports.

Elsewhere, the Election Commission has asked the central bank to track money transfers to make sure that cash payouts aren't used to influence voting (which just means even more “black money” — which isn't transferred through banks — will come into play), according to the Hindu.

The EC has written to the Reserve Bank of India in the backdrop of a recent incident where the Income Tax department seized, from two vans, cash of about Rs. 12.38 crore ($2.5 million) reportedly belonging to ICICI Bank after it was intercepted at Delhi’s border with Ghaziabad (Uttar Pradesh).

During the same interception on Jan. 9, another Rs. 60 lakh ($120,000) cash, claiming to be deposited in HDFC Bank, was seized by the tax department.

As five states go to polls to elect assembly representatives beginning Jan. 28, there's a real opportunity to assess HOW corruption works, rather than arguing futilely over the powers that should be granted to an ombudsman.

Think it will happen? Me neither.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatches/globalpost-blogs/the-rice-bowl/india-campaign-finance-crisis