Orban’s Fidesz to overspend in Hungary’s election campaign
Elections are held this Sunday in Hungary. Pro-government forces have spent almost eight times as much on public billboards in the ongoing Hungarian election campaign than the opposition. Fidesz itself seems to have violated the spending cap of HUF 1.177 bn, just with its billboard ads worth HUF 1.4 bn. Altogether pro-government forces have spent HUF 3 bn on outdoor ads in March. The opposition is lagging behind with HUF 390 million according to a flash report by K-Monitor, Political Capital and Transparency International Hungary summarizing data on outdoor advertising in Hungary’s election campaign.
The summary published by three Hungarian non-governmental organizations is based on data purchased from Outdoor Media Audit Ltd, a media research and audit firm monitoring billboard and city light ads all over Hungary. According to the data provided, pro-government forces published 12.171 billboards and city light posters worth 3095 million HUF (EUR 8.4 m) on list prices in March while the united opposition only bought 1.564 ads worth 390 million HUF (EUR 1.05 m). Only around half of the pro-government ads can be directly affiliated with Fidesz itself. The rest were campaigns by the government resonating with Fidesz messages or anti-opposition ads by the GONGO CÖF (Civil Alliance Forum, organizer of pro-Fidesz rallies called ‘peace marches’) that is backed by huge amounts of public money. Fidesz may also benefit from ads by the Solution Movement, a newly founded party by LiveJasmine founder György Gattyán.
According to the opposition the movement was established to confuse opposition minded voters. Hungary’s poor campaign finance regulation doesn’t deal with third party actors and other laws have only vague rules that would limit government interference in the election campaign. It is important to note that the data published only covers a share of campaign expenses. Vast amounts are spent in media, social media, direct campaigning and other campaign activities.
The most important finding of the report is that Fidesz has likely gone beyond the official spending cap of HUF 1.17 bn (EUR 3.2 m) with its own ads worth HUF 1.4bn (EUR 3.9 m). The question is if this will have any consequences. In case Fidesz admits overspending, this would result in a fine double the amount overspent - not a very big deal for a party in power. In case it would refer to ads bought at discount prices, this would be evidence for accepting illegal donations, as individual discounts from list prices have to be counted as donations. However, parties are not allowed to accept such from legal entities. In the past the State Audit Office, the state organ tasked with overseeing political finance and campaign spending has proven reluctant to do the in-depth auditing of campaign expenditures, including checking declared costs against real spending of the parties. At a by-election in 2020, Fidesz candidate Zsofia Koncz has exceeded the spending limits just with social media ads and has underreported campaign expenditure. Despite evidence from Facebook’s Ad Library, the violation of campaign rules had no consequences, the SAO did not find any irregularities.
The full report can be accessed in Hungarian here.