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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

What TV Fails To Tell About Voting Money

The Russian independent television network NTV ran a 20-minute documentary on Sunday called "Money and the Elections," the fourth installment in a British-produced series on Russia's upcoming elections.


I was invited to contribute my views on the financing of the election campaign.


No news medium can compare with television in its ability to influence public opinion. But my experience in helping to make this film taught me that television can also be a rather crude and limited means of presenting logical arguments and detailed analyses.


Those behind the cameras may think otherwise. But I was horrified when I discovered that the arguments I had prepared had been greatly reduced.


Roughly 5 percent of the original material I had prepared was actually used. For a 20-minute film, more than eight hours of videotape was shot. Now newspapers are not a waste-free enterprises either, but I had never seen so much squandering of material. True, a good part of it deserved to be cut, but I was sorry to see so much of what I considered to be important go.


The idea behind this documentary was that there are two groups of economic interests. First there are branches of industry dealing primarily in raw materials. These branches are interested in liberal economic legislation and in a free-market economy. The second group is connected with the industries in the process of conversion, including a significant part of the military-industrial complex and all of the agricultural sector. The first group supports liberal politicians and parties. The second group is backing the Communist-patriotic bloc which would defend noncompetitive enterprises.


The documentary managed put this idea across in the broadest possible way. But most of the qualifications I had tried to make were relegated to the cutting-room floor. For instance, my colleague at Izvestia, Irina Savvateyeva, said that major financial groups today back not just one or two parties, but several potential winners at a time. Just in case.


The president of the Russian Commodities Exchange, Alexei Vlasov, presented a curious picture of how business affects politics. Imagine, he said, that our stock market has none of "its own" deputies in the State Duma. But a certain bank does. We then ask this bank for help in getting a certain resolution we need passed in the Duma. If the resolution does not conflict with the bank's own interests, it is usually willing to oblige, and we either pay it for its help or return the favor in turn. Vlasov was not saying, of course, that the stock exchange does this, he was saying that this is how things are done in principle.


Deputy Artyom Tarasov said that he had been offered 100 million rubles ($22,000) to help secure the signature of a bureaucrat in the Finance Ministry. Tarasov said he turned the honorarium down but that that is essentially how Duma deputies make their money today.


But the most important thing I learned from collaborating on the film was that if Russian capital is invested in politicians and parties at all, it is done so sparingly. For these investments generate too little return, too late. "Stimulating" a government functionary in power, however, gives far more palpable and immediate results than backing a party in search of power. But business representatives would not discuss the matter. That is why I am doing so now.