Duma takes aim at foreign funding of political parties

Publish date: November 14, 2006

The Russian Duma has tabled a bill that would forbid foreign NGOs from contributing to local political parties in a move seen by many as a Kremlin tactic to limit the number of opposition political groups as well as curb foreign influence in the country’s political process, The Moscow Times reported.

The bill was submitted last Friday to the Duma’s Public and Religious Organizations Committee – at a time when debate about foreign NGOs in Russia in general had been heated by the temporary suspension of such groups as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch for supposedly failing certain registration requirements.

"We have to put an end to the influence of foreign money on Russian politics," Communist Deputy Viktor Ilyukhin said Monday, according to the paper.

Ilyukhin co-authored a bill that would prevent foreign-funded NGOs from making donations to political parties and organizations involved in referendums.

President Vladimir Putin said last summer that: "No self-respecting country allows this," in reference to the influence of foreign money on domestic politics, the paper reported. "We will not allow this either."

Putin has since been on a crusade t trim the number of political parties operating in Russia and introduce a two party system similar to the United States.

Current Russia law forbids political parties from accepting money from citizens of other countries as well as state-owned companies and legal entities in which foreign investors have more than a 30 percent stake.

The Kremlin became increasingly concerned about foreign involvement in politics after the "color" revolutions that led to regime change in Georgia and Ukraine. Foreign NGOs played an active role in both countries.

"This bill is necessary to ensure fair elections," said Valery Sergiyenko, a Rodina deputy who co-sponsored the bill. He added that in the past, liberal parties had accepted money from abroad.

Ilyukhin said Yabloko and the Union of Right Forces – both opposition parties to the Kremlin-backed United Russia party – had taken money from foreign donors.

Sergei Mitrokhin, a leader of Yabloko, denied the accusation and accused the United Russia party of deliberately eliminating opposition parties, said the newspaper.

"This bill is designed to help United Russia get rid of any competition before the elections," Mitrokhin told the paper. "Just the suggestion that an opposition party had received foreign money from an NGO would make it easier to have that party stricken from the ballot."

It is not year clear when the first reading of the bill will come.