Online campaign spending "impossible" to track, say journalists

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With election campaigning in full swing ahead of Latvia's parliamentary elections on October 6, journalists from the Baltic Center for Investigative Journalism, Re:Baltica, say it has become impossible to keep track of who is spending what and consequently whether any election rules are being violated.

Citing figures from the anti-corruption agency KNAB, Re:Baltica says the Harmony (Saskaņa) party has spent or plans to spend EUR 25 000 on social media plus EUR 15 000 for ads on the internet.

Meanwhile the Who Owns The State (KPVLV) party, has planned to spend almost EUR 46 000 online.

"These figures are confusing, because the volume of ads placed on Facebook by Harmony in the past month is five times greater - some 300 items - compared to 40 for KPVLV.  We cannot keep track of the amount of ads on YouTube, but we get reports from the public that Harmony is dominant there as well, with ads popping up between music videos, films and children's cartoons in Russian," says Re:Baltica, which has been running a campaign to attempt to keep track of online election advertising with the help of the public.

"The sad thing is that KNAB has no way to oversee or audit party spending on Facebook and Google. KNAB has said hitherto that it has the tools to do so, but declined to disclose [its methods]. According to off the record information, KNAB had hoped for cooperation from Facebook, but so far nothing has happened," said Re:Baltica.

Representatives of Google and Facebook will meet with journalists in Riga next week, Re:Baltica added.

As for election spending as a whole, any single party is not allowed to spend in excess of 533,347 euros on campaign materials. According to figures submitted by the parties, Harmony plans to be the biggest spender, paying 428,000 euros for its election campaign, followed by the Greens and Farmers Union (366,000 euros), and For Development/For! (220,000 euros).

Full details of the party spending plans are available from KNAB's website.  

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