The Sandinista Party has turned the electoral frauds with which they’ve perpetuated their hold on power since 2008 into a lucrative political business. In addition to assigning themselves more votes than they actually received, the FSLN has taken in a little over US $60 million dollars through Nicaragua’s laws for public campaign financing. This has taken place within a murky system characterized by its lack of transparency.
Despite the Supreme Electoral Council’s (CSE) opaque records regarding their management of the campaign reimbursements to the political parties, Confidencial undertook a thorough review of these finances. The investigation concluded that the Sandinista party has taken in approximately US $60.3 million dollars as repayments for their participation in elections held from 2006 through 2021.
The CSE disbursements made under the category of campaign expense reimbursements to the political parties are budget items the Ministry of the Treasury and Public Credit proposes to the National Assembly every year in October, for implementation the following year. According to law, the allotment represents 1% of the regular revenue in the General Budget of the Republic. This sum is then distributed according to the percentage of valid votes received by each party.
In order to establish the exact amounts, the FSLN received between 2006 and 2021, the Confidencial team combed through the scant information available. This became ever more restricted as Daniel Ortega consolidated his authoritarian project, culminating in the repressive dictatorship that currently rules over Nicaragua.
Frauds and repayments increase in tandem
Nonetheless, the Confidencial team was able to arrive at a solid estimate of the amounts disbursed. First, they reviewed reports from electoral observation organizations, plus financial reports the Sandinista Front published up until 2014 in the official State Bulletin La Gaceta. They also consulted reports from the Comptroller’s Office before it, too, was completely absorbed by the Ortega regime.
As the years went on and the Sandinista Party restricted ever more tightly the information available on electoral reimbursements, the amounts earmarked for each election – municipal as well as national – increased.
In addition, the distribution of the funds repaying supposed campaign expenses were based on the CSE’s determination of votes received, in elections increasingly characterized by frauds favoring the Sandinista Party, a lack of political competition, and the Ortega machine’s absolute control over the entire electoral system.
Neither the Sandinista Party nor the CSE nor the Comptrollers Office ever disclosed with transparency the supporting documents (such as receipts, bills or expense accounts) submitted to justify the campaign expenses incurred by Ortega’s party in all these electoral processes.
Confidencial’s analysis revealed that from 2006 to 2021, the Sandinista Party received US $46,466,997 dollars for supposed campaign expenses during the national elections (for president, and deputies to the National and Department Assemblies); and US $13,840,529 for the municipal elections for (mayors and city councils).
In 2006, the only elections that Daniel Ortega legitimately won, reports from the organizations that observed the elections established that the Sandinista Front received a sum equivalent to US $3,567,000 dollars at the going exchange rate in December of that year.
These estimates were established according to the quantity of votes obtained by Ortega’s party in those elections. However, the Electoral Law at that time established that the calculation of reimbursement according to electoral tallies represented only a “ceiling” for the disbursement. The actual amount allotted to each party was determined according to the supporting documents presented to the CSE and the Comptroller’s Office.
Reimbursement “ceiling” and justification mechanism repealed
Despite this provision, neither the CSE nor the Comptroller ever revealed information regarding whether or not the Sandinista or other political parties in each race had submitted legitimate supporting documents to justify their claimed campaign expenses. In 2016, prior to the national elections, the Ortega legislators repealed the provision that the official CSE count marked a ceiling, while the real amount would be determined by each parties’ supported expense records. Now, the campaign expense reimbursement would be based only on each parties’ percentage of the final vote.
In the 2008 municipal elections, the Sandinista Party unleashed their electoral fraud machine. They assigned 105 of the 146 mayoralties up for election to themselves (some of the Caribbean Coast municipalities didn’t participate in these elections due to the passing of Hurricane Felix.). There were stolen ballot boxes, reversals of clear victories for opposition mayoral candidates, and overnight changes in the vote tallies. This process was backed by repressive police forces and groups from the Sandinista Youth as well as some paramilitary.
That electoral disaster netted the Sandinista party $3,111,000 dollars, as their campaign expense reimbursement from the Supreme Electoral Council. Later, the Sandinista Party again brought out their now-greased-up electoral fraud machine and awarded itself a resounding victory in the 2011 national elections, marking Daniel Ortega’s first consecutive reelection.
By then, there were clear signals of what was to be Nicaragua’s electoral future. It was the last campaign where Ortega participated in a campaign rally to ask Nicaraguans to vote for him. His campaign, however, no longer offered a plan of government and relied on bottomless state resources. Nonetheless, the CSE began increasing the allotments for repayment of Ortega’s campaign expenses; on that occasion they disbursed some US $10,099,997 dollars for alleged electoral expenses.
The 2012 municipal elections revealed a citizenry tired of the frauds, as evidenced by a jump in the percentage of voters who abstained. For these elections, the number of FSLN mayors elected increased once again, according to CSE tallies – rising to 134. The reimbursement paid out to the FSLN for these campaigns reached US $2,667,529 dollars.
Sandinista party records grow ever more opaque
The elections of 2012 marked the last time that the Sandinista Front disclosed any information on the amounts they received as campaign expense reimbursement. A Confidencial investigation made public in March 2021 revealed that when the Sandinista Party published its financial intake as a political organization, the category “amounts received as election reimbursements” only included amounts received up to the 2012 municipal elections. From then on, those funds were left entirely undisclosed and under wraps.
By 2016, the blossoming dictatorship opened the doors to a family dynasty, with Rosario Murillo, Ortega’s wife, named as the Vice Presidential candidate. That year, they also eliminated any real electoral competition, through a court ruling that nullified the main opposition platform.
For this election, in which Daniel Ortega didn’t hold any campaign rallies, the reimbursement totaled US $15,400,000. This reflected the new system, without the hindrance of a maximum “ceiling” and the need for justification. The percentage of votes received according to the CSE was now the only determining factor.
This same situation was repeated during the 2017 municipal elections. A hundred thirty-five mayor’s seats were “won” by the Sandinista Party, in yet another balloting process characterized by the scant presence of any campaigning on the part of the candidates for mayor from Ortega’s party. The CSE assigned the Sandinista Party a total reimbursement of US $8,062,000 million dollars for their expenses this time around.
Finally, there was the voting process that took place on November 7, 2021. Ortega secured his third consecutive reelection, in yet another electoral process with no political competition. This time, his chief tactic was to imprison all aspiring opposition candidates, since – according to polls – many of these could beat him easily in a free election. Flanked only by tiny allied parties, the dictator conveniently manipulated a final vote tally of 75% of the votes for him and his party. With that, the party pocketed yet another US $17.4 million dollars to repay their “campaign costs”.
A reimbursement process tainted from the start
Eliseo Nuñez is a political analyst and former deputy who served as the 2011 campaign manager for the presidential candidacy of radio station owner Fabio Gadea. He noted that as the incidence of electoral fraud increased, along with the dismantling of political competition, reimbursement for campaign expenses became a huge source of income for the Sandinista Party, which has no accountability or transparency in their records.
“When the origin of it all – the people’s will – is damaged, everything that results from it is already tainted. When you’re not counting the votes honestly and there’s no opportunity to vote with transparency, everything else is damaged. That’s why Nicaragua’s voting process is among the costliest in the world, in one of the poorest countries in the world,” Nuñez declared.
He explained that the spirit of the public campaign financing law is fair, considering that it seeks to avoid having economically powerful groups, mainly from the private sector, influence elections and the country’s politics in general. However, the destruction of the electoral system by the Ortega regime buried these good intentions, and turned them into a political business.
“The big problem is that the Sandinista Party, supposedly the big winner in all these elections, never presented or disclosed any documents to support their claimed campaign expenses. Not when there was a ceiling for the distribution of reimbursements, much less now, when the repayments represent a straight calculation based on the votes obtained. We’re also talking about a Comptroller’s Office that was capable of leaving Nicaragua in the dark by order of Daniel Ortega. What hopes can you have for the disclosure of the supporting documents? The surest bet is that they approved any total that Ortega sent them,” Nuñez added.
The electoral reforms approved by the Ortega machine in 2021 eliminated the requirement that a party receive at least 4% of the vote in order to receive public reimbursement for their campaign expenses. Any political party that participates in the elections can now receive these funds. This change will serve to nourish political patronage and expand the huge business that the campaign financing mechanism has become.