Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Mexico's Ruling Party Hurt by Fund-Raising `Blunder' Pledges by Wealthy Make Campaign Financing Hot Issue

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Mexico's Ruling Party Hurt by Fund-Raising `Blunder' Pledges by Wealthy Make Campaign Financing Hot Issue

Article excerpt

MEXICO'S Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) celebrated its 64th anniversary at the government's helm on March 5. But few of the party faithful were able to savor the moment. The PRI is reeling from bad publicity about a Feb. 23 fund-raising dinner held for business moguls.

The local media adds daily to the details of a private gathering where 30 of Mexico's wealthiest businessmen pledged an average $25 million each to support the 1994 PRI election campaigns.

The dinner was attended by President Carlos Salinas de Gortari and PRI party chairman Genaro Borrego Estrada. Television baron Emilio Azcarrago - described by Forbes magazine as the richest man in Latin America - reportedly promised to give the PRI $70 million in gratitude for his prosperity during the Salinas years.

The PRI has long been criticized for being too financially dependent on the government. But dinner host Antonio Ortiz Mena told reporters it was part of a move "to cut the umbilical cord" between the PRI and the government.

Political analysts say the PRI has blundered.

"A steak dinner for fat cats to fill a campaign war chest won't play well at the grass roots and won't strengthen the move toward decentralization of the party," says George Grayson, a Mexico specialist at William and Mary College in Williamsburg, Va.

Raising party funds from business groups is nothing new. But this latest method is causing a stir.

A critic within the PRI, Mexico City Rep. Demetrio Sodi de la Tijera, says his party is "prostituting" itself to "a privileged group."

Alfonso Zarate Flores, director of Grupo Consultor Interdisciplinario, a private political consulting firm, agrees the dinner was a "political error."

"Form is everything in Mexican society. It was inappropriate for the president of the republic to be soliciting funds," Mr. Zarate says. It appears the donations are in payment for favors received or favors to come, he notes. Or as many are saying here, "El que paga manda" - "He who pays gives the orders."

PRI officials object to such characterizations.

"We only accept donations from loyal sympathizers and without conditions," PRI chairman Borrego told 2,000 party members at the anniversary gathering. …

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