Campaign finance: Price tag of Kenya 2012 presidential race likely to hit $130 million

Sunday February 05 2012

This year’s campaigns are poised to be bigger, louder and flashier than five years ago, as the country’s Constitution now provides for five electoral positions for the voter to decide on election day, up from three in the previous system—the county governor’s and senator’s seat are now up for contestation along with the county assembly, parliamentary and presidential positions. The total bill for a serious presidential campaign could run into a tidy sum as the graphic breaks it down.

As campaign season gets into high gear in coming months, there is one word that is keeping top presidential contenders awake: Money.

In interviews with top presidential contenders and campaign insiders, it is emerging that the price tag for running for president in 2012 could double from what it was in 2007, with campaigns expected to be bigger, louder and flashier, as each voter now gets to help pick two more electoral positions under the new devolved system.

A voter will now pick a president, MP, senator, governor and civic representative.

A study by the Coalition for Accountable Political Financing (CAPF), a Nairobi-based think-tank, estimates that President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga spent $75 million (what could be easily traced) on their presidential bids in 2007.

Campaign insiders told The East-African that they expect that a well-run presidential bid — targeting, besides the presidency itself, the election of enough senators and Members of Parliament from the candidate’s party to allow him or her to rule comfortably without having to enter into messy coalitions — could cost between $100 million and $150 million.

Political strategists and pollsters are estimating that the top residential contenders –– such as Uhuru Kenyatta, William Ruto, Raila Odinga, Kalonzo Musyoka, George Saitoti, Peter Kenneth, Raphael Tuju and Martha Karua –– could spend each spend in this range of $100 million to $150 million if they were to launch serious national presidential campaigns.


At this level of spending by top contenders, the coming election could inject upwards of $500 million into the Kenyan economy, a financial stimulus that could spark inflation.

This money is likely to end up in the pockets of small and big business owners as well as well-placed consultants in media and politics as candidates splash cash on publicity, merchandise, travel and operating campaign secretariats.

If you factor in inflation and the new positions, definitely parties and candidates will spend significantly more,” said Kennedy Masime, the director of Centre for Governance and Development, which published the 2007 report on election campaign financing.

“There are some elements that have been put in place to regulate campaign financing, but the problem is that election law in Kenya has not been properly conceptualised—there is no organising philosophy.

We have laws scattered all over—from the Political Parties Act, Public Officer Ethics Act, Elections Act and so many others pieces of legislation, not to mention all the bodies that supervise election financing in one capacity or another, “ said Mr Masime.


Raising campaign money will not be easy, however, after two recent laws — the Elections and Political Parties Act and the Campaign Finance Bill — banned candidates from raising money from foreigners and imposed a maximum limit of Ksh5 million ($60,240) that a single donor can contribute.

This means that seeking donations from millions of supporters through social networks to be paid through mobile money micro-payments solutions is going to be the next big thing in Kenyan politics. The campaigns could also see a rise in so-called independent political action committees that can raise money freely and support their causes and candidates.

New election rules could see the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission seek more transparency and frequent public disclosure of campaign finances in addition to what the new laws are demanding.

Already candidates vying for the highest office are busy making plans to build enough financial muscle to bankroll them to power come December or March.

They have set in motion campaign machinery ranging from high-tech operational offices to high profile campaign think-tanks groups made up of professionals, technocrats, business people and academicians. Several are said to have bought helicopters to help them get around the country to meet voters.

Sources told The EastAfrican that Peter Kenneth has, for example, bought two helicopters at an estimated cost of $3.12 million. Uhuru Kenyatta is also said to have a helicopter at his disposal. Mr Kenneth is said to have raised at least Ksh2.5 billion ($31.25 million) for his campaigns towards the close of last year.

Prof George Saitoti, the Minister for Internal Security, who has indicated he will be vying for the presidency, is reportedly said to have set aside Ksh2 billion ($23 million) for his presidential bid, a figure that some analysts reckon is too low to bankroll a serious campaign to State House.

“Ksh2 billion is too little for a campaign,” said political strategist Moses Kuria, who works with the Party of National Unity (PNU), putting the price tag of a “serious campaign” at at least Ksh8 billion ($100 million).

Zach Mutuma, head of communications for Raphael Tuju’s 2012 campaign, said the former foreign affairs minister had raised nearly Ksh3 billion ($37.5 million) and was planning to bring in at least three helicopters for his campaigns.

A political strategist who worked in President Kibaki’s 2007 campaign team said each of the candidates would require at least Ksh10 billion ($125 million) for the entire campaign lasting at least one year, a huge chunk going into bankrolling candidates seeking to become MPs, governors and senators using their party.

These are individuals the presidential candidates would expect to spread their influence at the grassroots. The biggest spend, the estimates show would be on logistics and publicity.

Most expensive

A survey CAPF shows the 2007 general election was the most expensive in the country’s history, where close to Ksh6 billion ($75 million) was spent by the main presidential contenders, Mr Odinga and President Kibaki. Political parties raised nearly Ksh4.8 billion ($56 million) for the campaigns from nomination fees and from foreigners.

Other sources, the report shows, were bank loans, saccos, pyramid schemes and sales of candidates’ personal assets.

The report also states that Ksh1 billion ($12 million) may have been spent through misuse of state resources, such as state media, vehicles and the Government Printer. PNU, which was backing President Kibaki, reportedly raised Ksh 2.1 billion ($24 million), while Raila Odinga’s ODM raised Ksh 1.2 billion ($14.1 million).

ODM-Kenya, which was supporting Kalonzo Musyoka, raised Ksh 157 million ($1.8 million). These estimates are corroborated by Synovate, the research firm, which projects that the campaigns cost the candidates Ksh5 billion ($60 million) of which Ksh 663 million ($7.4 million) went into advertising.

Big players in advertising contracts included Ogilvy East Africa, a subsidiary of WPP-owned Scangroup, which handled the advertising for President Kibaki’s re-election in 2007.

But this time, the race is expected to be more expensive, given the fact that candidates will be looking for support in 290 constituencies, and they also have to have candidates in the senatorial and gubernatorial races. Economists told The EastAfrican that massive spending could trigger inflationary pressures.

“When so much money is poured into the economy, especially in the last months to elections, we could see inflation rising, ” said Dr Tabitha Kiriti-Ng’ang’a, an economist at the University of Nairobi.

“Ordinarily, an election year is tricky. While some businesses and consultants will benefit, the campaign mood could hurt productive activity. If the government is not alert, money laundering could rise, ” she added.

But as attention shifts to political fundraising, candidates are facing hard legal realities as Kenya tightens its laws regarding how politicians raise money and account for it to the public.

With the enactment of the Elections Act and the Political Parties Act and the proposed Campaign Financing Bill, Kenya has joined the ranks of consolidated democracies like the US and UK that have in place elaborate laws to both bring transparency to the process and shield elective politics from influence peddling by big donors.

The Campaign Finance Bill hopes to bridge the funding gap between political parties, curb corruption, limit the influence of special interests, limit the impact of money on the outcome of elections and force parties to be accountable to members.

But experts say governance loopholes remain, as politicians are under the direct influence of wealthy donors, who may use a maze of cross-ownerships, shadowy nominees and linkages to spread their influence across the political divide in return for favouAn edge in mobilising funds can give a candidate an unassailable lead, as US president Barack Obama’s $1 billion campaign in 2008 demonstrated. The Financial Times reports that, this year, Republicans are rapidly eroding the huge funding advantage that propelled President Obama into the White House, with wealthy donors flooding new conservative campaign groups with cash before the presidential election in November.

The super-political action committees backing Mitt Romney, the Republican frontrunner for the 2012 nomination, raised $30 million last year, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission published last week, with 10 individuals and corporations donating $1 million each.

It is still not clear when exactly Kenya’s next presidential election will be held, with a recent court ruling scheduling it for early 2013, or possibly earlier if President Kibaki and PM Odinga dissolve the coalition this year.