Public money, party campaign

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investigative journalist at OKO.press. Previously he worked at Newsweek and Gazeta Wyborcza. Grand Press 2018 nominee in "News" category for…

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According to the Electoral Code, all parties should have a level playing field in the election campaign. Including financially. The United Right is not bothered by that.



The Electoral Code precisely specifies how an election campaign is to be financed. Before the elections, each party (or coalition) appoints an election committee and the given party can only spend money from that committee during the campaign on anything that is associated with the election campaign: advertising spots, conventions, transport, hotels, billboards, leaflets, gadgets, etc. But what if the whole of the state apparatus is actually involved in the party’s campaign?

 

Whoever is in power has a bonus

The money for the election committee comes from the party’s election fund. Donations to the fund from one person cannot exceed 15 times the minimum monthly salary. But if there is more than one election in a given year, the maximum amount is higher – it is 25 times the minimum monthly salary.

 

The Electoral Code also specifies the maximum amounts that each committee can spend in a given campaign. The State Election Commission (PKW) calculates this according to a special formula contained in the Code. According to a communication of the State Election Commission from late September, the Law and Justice Party (PiS) election committee will have the most to spend on its campaign in the forthcoming parliamentary elections; the limit on spending is set at PLN 38,781,000.

 

Why are all these regulations and scrupulous monitoring of finances by the State Election Commission necessary? The point is that every party should have equal financial chances in the campaign.

 

It is easy to imagine that, without these regulations, a few millionaires, who are, for instance, MPs or affluent supporters of some party or friendly businessmen and corporations, could contribute hundreds of millions of zlotys to their party, so that the group they support could flood Poland with their campaign materials.

 

It is obvious, after all, that the party in power always has it better. After all, the prime minister or a minister who visits some town during the campaign and announces that a new factory or bridge would soon be built there can always give the excuse that this is not a part of the campaign, but a government initiative. This has always been the case and it is hardly surprising that PiS is taking advantage of the privilege that power gives it. However, the United Right has gone a stage further ahead of the forthcoming elections, and is directly taking advantage of not only the fact that its politicians can make promises on behalf of the government. 

 

In this campaign, both PiS and Suwerenna Polska [Sovereign Poland Party] politicians are organizing what are de facto party events, advertising party election promises, and are handing out equipment to voters, from laptops to pots. All this is paid for with public money.

 

Picnics

‘We want the Poles to know.’ This is how the former PiS press officer, Radosław Fogiel, explained the ‘800+ Picnics’.

 

These are events organized by the Ministry of Family and Social Policy. Their objective is to inform Poles that 500 plus will increase to 800 plus, which was one of PiS’s election ideas, from January next year.

 

The question could be asked of actually why such a huge promotional campaign should be conducted about a programme that everyone in Poland has heard about, but, as Fogiel said…

 

The events were taking place throughout the summer holidays. PiS politicians appeared at them and talked to Poles beside inflatables for children, candyfloss and other attractions. As we revealed in OKO.press, the family ministry received the money for the picnics from Prime Minister Morawiecki’s so-called budget reserve, from which funds should be reserved for ‘unforeseen and extraordinary expenditure’. The ministry received PLN 10 million from the Prime Minister for the events. Just to reiterate: the limit of all of the PiS election committee’s spending in this campaign is a little under PLN 39 million.

 

But the picnics are not all. The Ministry of Family also announced tenders for the promotion of the 800+ programme in several hundred newspapers, as well as gadgets handed out to kids during the picnics (among others, 5,000 teddy bears, the same number of cuddly toys, 25,000 pencils with animals, 5,000 pencil cases and water bottles, 15,000 hard reflectors, 30,000 balloons and 15,000 toy windmills were bought) and online advertising.

 

Civic Coalition [KO] MPs conducted a parliamentary audit of the picnics at the Ministry of Family. It transpired that the average cost of organizing one event was approximately PLN 100,000.

 

Motorways and other specifics

Another of PiS’s election ideas in the campaign was free motorways. 

 

‘As promised, we are making state motorways toll-free. But this is not all. We have decided to do something more,’ declared Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki on 1 July 2023. ‘This is our promise and we have kept our word,’ boasted the head of government.

 

The infrastructure ministry, as well as the family ministry, also received money for this from the budget reserve. The prime minister transferred PLN 2.5 million to the infrastructure ministry by way of a decision of 28 June ‘for promotional and informational activities regarding the government’s introduction of free travel on state motorways.’

 

At the same press conference, Prime Minister Morawiecki also spoke about one specific motorway section which would be toll-free during the summer holidays. ‘Likewise, the motorway between Toruń and Gdańsk will be toll-free during summer holiday weekends,’ stated the prime minister. In turn, Infrastructure Minister Andrzej Adamczyk made the assurance that there was enough money in the budget for this.

 

Actually, it transpires that the minister was right and money for this was found in the budget. As arises from the new data on the budget reserve, the prime minister transferred PLN 50 million to the minister to ‘cover the reduced inflows to the National Road Fund in connection with the introduction of a procedure allowing for the temporary non-collection of tolls on the A1 motorway on the Gdańsk–Toruń section.’

 

Overall, the promotion of PiS’s motorway promise cost a further PLN 52 million of public money.

 

And what kind of promotion is this specifically? For example, billboards for almost PLN 630,000, which were erected on the sides of motorways throughout Poland and media installed near the junctions of these roads. Therefore, billboards were standing alongside free motorways providing information that these motorways are toll-free.

 

It is not only the Ministry of Infrastructure that is promoting free motorways. The Chancellery of the Prime Minister was also running its promotional campaign.

 

The ‘New Specifics’ campaign sponsored by the Chancellery of the Prime Minister, includes billboards announcing that the government is ‘investing in Poland’s future’.

 

The posters consist of a picture of smiling parents with two children, the title ‘Family 800+’ and a link to a website. The address – originally on a different government domain – redirects the web surfer to a website bearing the title #Nowe Konkrety [#New Specifics]. Other than 800+, the site also contains tabs devoted to toll-free motorways and free medicines for the over-65-year-olds and children.

 

It so happens that these three solutions are also PiS’s three main election promises announced at the party’s ‘Programme HIVE’ convention in the middle of May 2023.

 

In addition to the billboards and the website of the Prime Minister’s Chancellery, it also launched online spot advertisements and an advertising campaign about free motorways on the radio within the framework of the New Specifics. It is announcing that this is not the end of the story. However, the Prime Minister’s Chancellery has not revealed how much the campaign is costing.

 

In partnership with PiS

Safety is the main slogan on which PiS is basing its election campaign. It appears in practically all spots, banners, leaflets and in almost every speech given by this party’s politicians. 

 

As it happens, the ‘Energy-secure Poland’ campaign, for which Polska Grupa Energetyczna (PGE), a state-owned company, is responsible, was launched a few weeks ago.

 

We should add that this is a grand scale campaign: spots in cinemas and on television, advertisements on buses or huge billboards in Wrocław (in the main photograph) and Łódź are just some of its elements. It is to last approximately 30 days, namely until October.

 

PGE’s 30-second spot can be seen in cinemas, on television and in the internet, where the company boasts about how it cares for the safety of Poles. The clip features sentences which are in line with the election campaign, such as ‘We are correcting the mistakes of our predecessors by repolonizing energy assets and upholding energy sovereignty’ and ‘We are already building the future today so that you can plan yours in peace’. Let us recall PiS’s slogan: ‘A secure future for Poles’.

 

And therefore, a state-owned entity is running a huge advertising campaign with public money, which is perfectly aligned with PiS’s election campaign. 

 

We shall not even be able to find out for how much. When we asked PGE about the cost of the campaign, the company hid behind company secrecy.

 

But it seems that the real involvement of state-owned companies in PiS’s de facto election campaign is yet to come.

 

PGE, like most state-owned companies, has its own foundation. Each year, the foundation receives millions of zlotys from PGE. The latest available report for 2021 shows that the foundation received a total of over PLN 14.6 million from PGE and its subsidiaries. In the same year, it made donations of over 10 million. The Foundation supported memorial plaques commemorating the victims of the Second World War, renovation work at the Powązki cemetery, it bought computer hardware for the Wrocław University of Technology and so on.

 

Now, the PGE Foundation has a new task. In early September, it transpired that – together with other foundations of state-owned companies – it had volunteered to take part in the referendum campaign.

 

The national referendum announced by PiS with its four extremely biased questions will be held on 15 October, together with the elections to the Sejm and the Senate. However, it is governed by its own laws (regulated by a separate Act), as is the campaign before the referendum.

 

The entities that will take part in it are able to promote or criticize the referendum with everything known to us from election campaigns. In other words posters, leaflets, billboards and spots in the internet and traditional media. The difference is that, in contrast with the election campaign, this referendum campaign has virtually no financial restrictions.

 

PGE’s foundation, like the dozen or so other treasury company foundations that have signed up for the referendum campaign, can therefore spend millions of zlotys on materials that will promote the referendum announced by PiS.

 

Who will get a pot, who will get a laptop

The support of the electoral promotion of PiS with public money certainly does not need to be as visible and lavish as the examples described above. Who knows, perhaps it is precisely the ‘micro-targeting’ of voters with physical gifts that is even more effective from the point of view of the campaign.

 

In early 2023, the Justice Fund, which Minister Zbigniew Ziobro oversees, announced a competition for rural housewife circles. A total of PLN 5 million was up for grabs. The objective: to prevent crime. The circles had to organize a meeting, a talk or an event that would touch on security issues. The range was very wide.

 

So was what they could buy with the money from the grant they received. They could buy anything they needed to organize an event with an element of a talk about safety: pots, chip fryers, coffee machines etc. Of course, after the event, the equipment will remain with the circle, branded with the Justice Fund’s logo.

 

Ziobro’s ministry thought up a programme similar to that targeted at the housewife circles for sports clubs. These – also in the name of crime prevention – could buy balls, dumbbells and boxing bags with the money from the grant.

 

These grants are intended to be used for purchasing ‘sports equipment required for sports activities for children and youths within the framework of the fulfilment of the tasks of preventing the causes of crime’. Here, just as in the case of the housewives, the pool from the competition is PLN 5 million and the maximum grant for one club is PLN 5,000.

 

The Sovereign Poland politicians started to distribute the grants and equipment even before the election campaign officially started. Of course, it is coincidental that the parliamentary candidates take these gifts to their own constituencies.

 

The same is now true of the ‘Laptop for Pupils’ programme organized by the Ministry of Digital Affairs, namely computers handed out to fourth-graders. According to the media reports, PiS candidates are now handing out laptops in their own constituencies. As ‘Dziennik Gazeta Prawna’ writes, it is not only the Minister of Digital Affairs, Janusz Cieszyński, who is on the top of the PiS electoral list in the Olsztyn constituency, who goes to schools, bringing gifts to pupils. One of the first municipalities to receive hardware for pupils was Staszów in the Świętokrzyskie Voivodship. That school received 63 laptops from the programme as early as in the middle of September. According to the daily, Anna Krupka, the PiS candidate from there was handing them out.

 

Translated by Roman Wojtasz

 

The article was prepared for the Osiatyński’s Archive and published in Polish in OKO.press.

 

The activities of the organization are supported with the assistance of the Active Citizens Fund – National Program, which is financed by Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway through the Norwegian and EEA Funds.

 



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investigative journalist at OKO.press. Previously he worked at Newsweek and Gazeta Wyborcza. Grand Press 2018 nominee in "News" category for…


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Published

October 11, 2023

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