A Murky Flood Of Money Pours Into The World’s Largest Election

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party has spearheaded moves to loosen campaign finance laws in India, generating criticism that businesses—and foreigners—could potentially wield unprecedented influence over the election starting next month.

The new rules let corporations, including those partly owned by foreign entities, fund elections anonymously. They also permit businesses to bankroll political parties through opaque instruments called electoral bonds and enable shell companies to be conduits for election funding.

A Murky Flood Of Money Pours Into The World’s Largest Election 

The changes, which Modi’s party has said were designed to at least partially account for undocumented cash long used during India’s elections, may actually make it easier—and legal—for anonymous donors to support political parties. Spending on the election ending May 23 is set to rise 40 percent to 500 billion rupees ($7 billion), according to the New Delhi-based Centre for Media Studies.

“It won’t be an exaggeration to say our elections will never be the same again,” said N. Bhaskara Rao, the group’s chairman, who has advised previous Indian governments. “What is this if not the auctioning of our democracy to the highest-paying corporation?”

Modi swept to power in 2014 promising a business-friendly administration that would transform India’s image on the world stage. He remains the favorite for many investors, despite more recently introducing populist policies to boost support in rural India and tightening rules against corporate defaulters.

The biggest innovation in India’s campaign finance laws is the anonymous electoral bond. Despite the name, they bear little resemblance to the promissory notes investors are familiar with: Buyers aren’t paid any interest.

Anyone can buy an electoral bond at the government-owned State Bank of India in denominations ranging from 1,000 rupees to 10 million rupees ($14 to $140,000). Afterward they are delivered to a political party, which can exchange them for cash. They don’t carry the name of the donor and are exempt from tax.

A Murky Flood Of Money Pours Into The World’s Largest Election 

“Electoral bonds have made political parties completely beholden to unaccounted money, which could even be foreign money or money from dubious sources,” said Jagdeep Chhokar, the former head of India’s top business school and the founder of the Association for Democratic Reforms, a group that researches elections. “Corporate agendas can run the show.”

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who first announced plans for the electoral bonds in 2017, argued last year that they actually help improve transparency because they are banking instruments and every political party has to disclose how much it received. If full transparency is required, donors would go back to cash, he wrote in a January 2018 Facebook post.

For those in India worried about anonymous money in politics, the process for changing the laws has offered little reassurance that the new measures are an improvement.

System Overhaul

India’s campaign finance overhaul began in 2017, when parliament approved an amendment that made it easier for companies to donate to campaigns, including removing a cap on corporate donations (the maximum used to be 7.5 percent of a company’s average net profits over three years). Now new firms can also donate to political parties, opening the door for shell companies to be set up expressly for the purpose.

Also eliminated were requirements for companies to disclose how much they donated and to which party.

A Murky Flood Of Money Pours Into The World’s Largest Election 

The changes were introduced in parliament via a money bill, a measure that only needs to be passed by the lower house controlled by Modi’s ruling coalition and not the opposition-led upper house.

A similar tactic was used to pass with little debate rules that changed the definition of a foreign company. Previously, all subsidiaries of international entities were treated as overseas donors and not allowed to make political contributions. Now if a foreign firm has a stake of less than 50 percent in a company operating in India, that unit can fund Indian elections.

While several lawmakers protested the moves, analysts said the amendments will benefit both Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party as well as the main opposition Congress party.

“Nobody from the opposition spoke up,” Rao said. “Maybe everybody realizes they stand to gain if they come to power?”

In 2014, the Delhi High Court found both major parties guilty of violating foreign-exchange laws when they accepted a donation from London-based commodities giant Vedanta Resources Plc.

(The suit, filed by a former top bureaucrat and the Association for Democratic Reforms, was against the political entities and Vedanta wasn’t a party. The company didn’t respond to request for comment. The BJP and Congress argued the donations weren’t foreign because the Vedanta units that channelled the money were registered under Indian law.)

The law passed last year changed the definition of a foreign company all the way back to 1976, effectively nullifying the court’s verdict because Vedanta’s overseas parent owned less than 50 percent of the Indian unit.

The government has defended the revisions, saying they were intended to align the definition of “foreign source” with the nation’s foreign direct investment policies, and other laws bar political funding from abroad. GVL Narasimha Rao and Nalin Kohli, representatives of Modi’s BJP, didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The latest official data show that Modi’s ruling party won the bulk of financing in the year ended March 2018, both through corporate donations and electoral bonds.

A Murky Flood Of Money Pours Into The World’s Largest Election 

In 2018, electoral bonds worth about 10.6 billion rupees ($150 million) were purchased, according to data obtained under India’s Right to Information Act by Factly, a data journalism portal in India. About 90 percent were of the highest denomination available, which is out of reach for the average citizen.

India’s rules governing political contributions are looser than other major democracies. In the U.K., companies aren’t directly allowed to make donations to political parties. The U.S. allows unlimited funding through political action committees called super PACs on federal election campaigns, but requires them to disclose the names of donors. Milan Vaishnav, Washington-based senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who’s edited a book on Indian political funding, said he hasn’t seen an instrument like electoral bonds in any other country.

“In most advanced democracies, transparency is a core principle,” Vaishnav said. “Few advanced democracies legitimize opacity in the way India has done.”

[“source=bloombergquint”]

9 Takeaways You Need To Know About Education And Tuesday’s Election

Education issues in the elections.

With the midterms on Tuesday, we’ve devoted our weekly roundup to focus on education’s role in the election. Here are our nine takeaways of key issues and trends to watch:

1. Teachers are flexing their (political) muscles

With just days to go, both of the major teachers’ unions have devoted their considerable resources to the election.

The American Federation of Teachers has its members on the ground, making calls and knocking on doors, for more than 100 key Senate, House and gubernatorial races.

While the AFT is focused more on national races, the National Education Association (the largest U.S. teachers’ union with nearly 3 million members) is primarily targeting state and local races.

This shouldn’t be a surprise. This has been a year packed with teacher activism. There were walkouts and demonstrations in five states. What did they want? Their main concerns were better pay and working conditions. Arizona, West Virginia, Colorado, Kentucky and Oklahoma are also states with some of the lowest education funding rates in the nation, as well as very low rates of teacher pay.

For education advocates, conversations on funding education are long overdue.

In a report, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities called the last 10 years, “A Punishing Decade for School Funding.” Twenty-five states are still providing less total school funding per student than they were in 2008, according to this report by the AFT.

2. Keep an eye on the governor’s races

Education is the No. 2 issue in campaign ads for governors, according to the Wesleyan Media Project. It falls to 15th when you look at federal races, says Travis N. Ridout, the project’s co-director. This, he explains, is reflective of the importance of states vs. the federal government in setting education policy.

There are 36 gubernatorial races on Tuesday. Seventeen of those, because of retirements and term limits, will see a new governor in office. And 12 states will elect governors who appoint the state school chief (often called a superintendent).

New Mexico and Maryland are two states where the governor will have to make tough choices right away: rewriting the formula used to determine how funds are distributed to schools.

3. Follow the money

Voters in Georgia, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Colorado, Missouri and Utah will see education funding measures on the ballot. All told, these could add $2.6 billion for early childhood, K-12 and higher education. That’s according to the Center for American Progress.

“We’re seeing voters are looking to find ways to increase state funding for public education,” says Jessica Yin of CAP. (You can read the full report here.)

Colorado is considering the biggest increase in education funding: $1.6 billion. Amendment 73 proposes to create a Quality Public Education Fund through tax hikes for corporations and individuals who earn more than $150,000 a year.

4. ‘Non-traditional’ funding sources

Three states are looking at new sources of education revenue.

Michigan is mulling whether to legalize recreational marijuana. If approved, 35 percent of excise taxes on weed in the state would go towards K-12 education, with the rest of the revenue devoted to local governments and road repairs. Voters in Missouri are considering a similar measure. If passed, the proposal would legalize medical marijuana and funnel tax revenue towards veteran healthcare and early childhood education.

(The idea to fund education by taxing marijuana sales has appeared on state ballots before. Voters in Nevada, Oregon and Colorado approved similar measures, since as early as 2012.)

Maryland, meanwhile, is looking at casino revenue to support early education, career and technical education, dual enrollment programs and more. The measure is anticipated to generate at least $750 million in supplemental funding from 2020 to 2022.

5. A “blue wave?”

Many Democrats are predicting an anti-Trump blue wave that will lead their party to take the House. Democrats only need 23 seats to take control. The numbers, however, seem less favorable to Democrats when it comes to taking over the Senate.

So what does that mean for education policy?

Democratic control of the House could bring a new push to update the Higher Education Act. This is the main federal law governing approximately $120 billion in annual federal financial aid spending through grants, loans and work-study. It also covers anti-sex discrimination rules found under Title IX. The legislation was first passed in 1965 and last updated in 2008.

In the past year, both parties submitted their own bills with — wait for it — major differences. The two sides are currently are at an impasse, particularly on guidelines for federal student aid and regulations of for-profit colleges. A Democratic majority in the House could allow for enough bipartisan cooperation to pass a renewal, says Bethany Little, a principal of the Education Counsel, an educational consulting firm.

6. The DeVos factor

The controversial U.S. Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, has been mentioned in $3 million worth of political TV ads and dozens of Facebook ads, overwhelmingly Democratic, according to a new analysis by Politico.

In races and states where public education is a big issue, her work advocating for vouchers and charter schools, scaling back civil rights protections for students, and siding with loan servicing companies over student borrowers could motivate many voters, even though DeVos’ name isn’t on the ballot.

7. Key Race: Arizona governor

David Garcia, a professor at Arizona State University, is running on the Democratic ticket against incumbent Republican Gov. Doug Ducey.

Ducey is campaigning on how he ended the teacher walkouts this spring: by signing a bill that promised a 20 percent raise to teacher salaries. NPR has reported that the legislation does not require that every teacher get a 20 percent raise.

The race could be a nailbiter. Garcia has attacked Ducey’s record on education but has faced a “crush of spending from incumbent Ducey and his allies,” reports Bret Jaspers of member station KJZZ.

Arizona will also be voting on the future of school vouchers. Proposition 305 will try to expand the state’s voucher program from special-needs students to all students in the state.

Republican Ducey is a firm supporter of charter schools in the state, saying he’s skeptical of the “profit motive” of charter institutions.

8. Key Race: Wisconsin governor

Democrat Tony Evers, the current superintendent of public instruction, is up against Republican incumbent Gov. Scott Walker, with education as the spotlight issue of the race.

About 40 percent of voters there put K-12 education as one of their top two issues, according to polling by Marquette University Law School.

Public education has experienced a bumpy road in Wisconsin since Walker took office in 2011. Funding for K-12 schools saw a $749 million cut during Walker’s first two years in office. Last year, the state boosted funding by $649 million, a figure Walker has frequently cited in his campaign ads.

Although Wisconsin wasn’t a part of the 2018 wave of teacher walkouts, teachers there did express their brooding discontent in 2011. Teacher unions in the state lost collective bargaining rights when Walker passed an anti-union act.

(Following its passage, median salaries dropped by 2.6 percent and median benefits by 18.6 percent, and many teachers left their jobs, according to the left-leaning Center for American Progress.)

Evers is proposing increased investment in all levels of education, from early childhood through higher ed. Polling suggests Evers has an edge with independents, but according to Shawn Johnson of Wisconsin Public Radio, “Wisconsin’s Republican Party has a proven record of getting its voters to turn out.”

9. One key congressional race

Keep an eye on this one: West Virginia’s 3rd Congressional district. It’s an open seat in an impressively red district that’s currently held by a Republican, and yet Democrats see a chance to flip it blue.

Polls suggest a competitive race between two state lawmakers: Democrat Richard Ojeda and Republican Carol Miller.

Ojeda is a state senator, army veteran and former high school teacher. Miller is a member of the state House of Delegates and a small business owner.

As state senator, Ojeda has been a fierce advocate for education, including better pay for teachers. He became the face of teacher walkouts in the state earlier this year, to the point where some protesters chanted his name, reported Politico.

For her part, Miller has focused her campaign on economic growth, particularly for the coal industry, gun rights and combating the opioid epidemic.

Miller is a pro-Trump candidate, riding on the tailcoat of the president’s success in the region. Ojeda, on the other hand, has vocalized regret for voting for Trump in 2016. (In 2016, 73 percent of voters in the district voted for President Trump.)

[“source=ndtv”]

Gujarat Election Insights: Why the fight in north Gujarat will be a tough one for BJP

Supporters wear mask of PM Modi during an election campaign rally in support of BJP candidates, in Sanand. (PTI File Photo)Supporters wear mask of PM Modi during an election campaign rally in support of BJP candidates, in Sanand. (PTI File Photo)
Unlike south and central Gujarat, the story is different in north Gujarat, here the Congress fared better than the BJP in the 2012 assembly elections. Of the 32 seats in the region, the Congress won 17 seats, two more than the BJP.

Can the BJP fare better this time? An analysis of how north Gujarat voted in the 2012 assembly elections coupled with the new political forces in the state throw some insights in what to expect this time round.

2012 Assembly Results: Victory Margins In North Gujarat

north gujarat (1)

First, the Patel factor: Patels are a prominent community in north Gujarat and unlike south and central Gujarat, they have given Hardik Patel and his Patidar agitation unprecedented support. That’s a traditional BJP vote that can be expected to move away.

Next the Thakor vote. Thakors, who comprise of about half the OBC population in the state, are concentrated in north Gujarat. The rise of Alpesh Thakor and his joining hands with the Congress is again expected to influence polling in several north Gujarat districts like Sabarkantha, Banaskantha, Kheda, Mehsana, Anand, Patan, Gandhinagar and Aravalli.

How The Thakor’s Voted In North Gujarat In 2012

thakor

Third, the Dalit vote. Mehsana is Jignesh Mevani’s home ground – his family originates from Meu village in the district. Further, Mevani, is contesting as an independent from Vadgam, a reserved seat for scheduled castes (SCs), in Banaskantha district, and has open support from Congress. Both the Dalit vote and the OBC vote can be expected to move his way giving a further boost to the Congress in north Gujarat.

The fourth deciding factor will be tribal seats in north Gujarat. It almost entirely voted for the Congress in 2012. Though BJP has been going all out to woo them, this is unlikely that a shift will be able to swing the vote their way.

Finally, unlike 2012, in 2017 there is no Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP) to split the votes.

What does this translate to? Expect a prickly battle, but chances are that new alliances may help the Congress strengthen its presence here.
[“Source-timesofindia”]

Election results: What does a hung parliament mean for education?

School books

The shock election result will come as a relief to schools leaders in particular, following months of audible protest and condemnation over Theresa May’s controversial grammar school expansion plans.

The Conservative Party is left in such a weak position that even if they form a government, ministers will in no way be able to push forward with the much contested selective schooling proposals outlaid in the Tory manifesto.

As a source close to Number 10 reportedly put it to the Times Education Supplement early on Friday morning, grammar school plans are “f***ed”.

The result will come as a huge blow to New Schools Network head and free schools advocate, Toby Young, who has championed Theresa May’s plan to build at least 100 new free schools – including selective schools such as grammars – each year.

While most agree that new school places are needed – especially given the forecasted population increase – free schools remains something of a contentious issue, with some arguing they are too costly and unaccountable, receiving huge budgets while local authority schools are neglected.

As director of NSN, Mr Young was tasked with helping to deliver the new free schools, which are autonomous from local authority.

Speaking to The Independent before the snap election was called, however, he suggested that even if the current ban on selective school expansions were to be lifted “no more than five” would realistically have been opened by 2020.

Responding the outcome on Friday morning, Kevin Courtney, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: “The Conservative party was hugely divided over grammar schools.

“The initiative for them came directly from Theresa May and her advisor Nick Timothy – perhaps only introduced in a misguided attempt to gain voters from Ukip.

“This policy can’t possibly survive this calamitous election. Government education policy now needs to urgently concentrate on and address school funding cuts.”

Schools are already facing very real and immediate consequences as a result of the squeeze on school funding.

We’ve heard and read stories about schools closing half an hour early to save money, parents being sent begging letters asking for donations, and teachers buying art materials and textbooks using money from their own pocket.

 

Speaking on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour in the run-up to election day, Home Secretary Amber Rudd admitted that a Conservative Government would not increase per pupil funding in England – a disclosure union leaders said confirmed their worst fears.

The future of school funding now hangs in the air: voters have undoubtedly reacted against the Conservative’s real terms cuts of 7 per cent per pupil, as well as the much criticised plans to scrap universal free lunches for infants.

By comparison, Labour pledged to increase school spending per pupil by 6 per cent compared with present levels, and the Liberal Democrat plan would protect spending in real terms at the 2017-18 level.

Responding to the main parties’ manifestos, however, the Education Policy Institute think tank published scathing criticisms that there had been “no clear indication” as to how any party intended to make savings, with “no clear estimate” of how some new policies would cost.

Industry leaders have long called for the school spending budget to be reassessed, and now it might have to be.

“Schools and universities are in comparatively good places,” said Sir Anthony Seldon, Vice Chancellor of the University of Buckingham.

“What they absolutely don’t need is any more initiatives from governments from the left or the right which will only damage the direction in which they are going.

“That said, the cuts to the school programme needs to be urgently eased out, or the quality of education will really suffer.”

The university head suggested a National Headship College needed to be set up – something his own institution Buckingham is proposing to do –  to ensure that the quality of leadership across the country at primary and secondary levels is dramatically improved.

“Finally, teacher recruitment needs to be given a very significant boost, particularly in maths and science, and that will mean more money will have to be found.”

While schools have made headlines for their financial struggles, top UK universities have been slipping down the ranks of recent global league tables – an issue experts have blamed on cuts to funding within higher education.

Despite this, Universities Minister Jo Johnson appears to remain in favour, with vice chancellors including Sir Anthony commending his efforts to pilot new university legislation, including the Teaching Excellence Framework.

“Dropping him would be folly and dangerous,” the Buckingham head warned.

Now, it seems, is the time for industry leaders to place increasing pressure on ministers to protect the rights of overseas students by allowing free movement following Brexit, and by discounting them from UK migration statistics.

“The government needs to start welcoming and celebrating overseas students, not deterring them, and it needs to ensure the softest of soft Brexit’s that will not inflict significant damage on British higher education and science.

“This is the time for strong and stable leadership in education,” Sir Anthony added. “Most governments and most education secretaries only start understanding their subject when it is time for them to pack up and leave.  If they do what is laid out here and nothing else, they will make a success of their job. The rule is – don’t meddle.”

University and College union, which represents higher and further education institutions across the UK, said the next government must prioritise investment in further and higher education and act swiftly to end the uncertainty over the position of EU nationals.

Responding to early indications of high youth turnout, UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: ‘It is encouraging to see that a positive message, particularly after the unpleasant Brexit campaign last year, can still inspire voters.

“Theresa May called this election expecting to secure a mandate for a hard Brexit. She has signally failed to achieve that and the next government must bring some stability in these chaotic times.

“We believe an important first step is to now guarantee the rights of EU citizens currently in the UK, including thousands of university and college staff and students who contribute so much to our economy and society.”

The outgoing President of the National Union of Students, Malia Bouattia, added: “Students want to see progressive and fair policies that will have a very real and positive impact on all our futures.

“We want a government that does everything in its power to welcome international students and keep our universities and colleges diverse and vibrant.

“We have seen the student vote play a key role in marginal seats across the UK. The student vote yesterday was about more than tuition fees… it is unsurprising that they sent a strong message in this election not only to the Lib Dems because of their betrayal, but also to the Tories and their destructive policies of cuts and privatisation. “

[“Source-ndtv”]