The party led by president-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador could be issued with a 197-million-peso fine for violating campaign finance rules, the National Electoral Institute (INE) said yesterday.
The announcement came just three days after López Obrador won Sunday’s presidential election in a landslide.
According to the INE, the National Regeneration Movement, Morena for short, created a trust in which it deposited around 78.8 million pesos (US $4.1 million), mainly in cash but also through checks and bank transfers. But the trust was not officially reported.
“The party actively participated in forming this financial instrument to collect resources as a financing method contrary to the rules,” the INE said in a statement.
The institute will vote whether to impose the fine, which is equivalent to almost US $10.3 million, on July 18.
If the penalty is enforced, it will be the largest related to campaign financing in the recently-concluded electoral process.
The INE said that the possible imposition of the fine was based on omissions in Morena’s fiscal reports and because the party had exceeded established limits for cash donations and received funds from undisclosed persons and prohibited entities.
Two sources with knowledge of the matter told the news agency Reuters that the trust under investigation was called “For the Others” and was set up by Morena to help victims of last September’s two devastating earthquakes.
The INE — which began its investigation after the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) filed a complaint against Morena for not reporting the fund — said that around 64.4 million pesos (US $3.35 million) were withdrawn from the trust and distributed to party members via checks that were later cashed and used to finance the campaigns of Morena candidates.
The coalition the party heads also won a majority in both houses of federal Congress and the governorships of five states in Sunday’s elections.
In response to the announcement of the INE investigation, López Obrador today rejected that the trust had been used improperly.
“No, not at all,” the president-elect said, adding that the matter would “go to court because [the allegation] has no foundation.”
The 64-year-old leftist political veteran made ending corruption the central tenet of his pitch to the electorate, meaning that even a whiff of wrongdoing has the potential to trigger claims of hypocrisy from critics.
During a visit to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec region of Oaxaca, which bore the brunt of the powerful September 7 earthquake, the then-candidate gave an assurance that half of the public funds authorized by the INE for campaign financing was being allocated to victims.
The size of the potential fine Morena could face almost matches the 207.5 million pesos it was allotted as part of record public funding approved by the INE last year for this year’s elections.
The electoral institute said it is also considering fining the PRI 36.5 million pesos (US $1.9 million) for deducting money from government employees in 2015 for the party’s treasury in Chihuahua, while the National Action Party (PAN) could be slapped with a 3-million-peso (US $156,000) penalty for accepting donations from prohibited entities in the lead-up last Sunday’s vote.