Research conducted in 2021 and 2022 into the costs of politics in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras supported by the Westminster Foundation for Democracy in partnership with Hans Seidel Stiftung has shown how a combination of weakly enforced campaign finance regulation, voter expectations and the increasing influence of criminal gangs over politics are contributors to the rising costs of seeking political office.
In El Salvador prospective legislators can spend as much as four times the annual salary they will receive if elected, in trying to win a seat. Once elected, the cost of doing politics remains high. For a district congressman in Guatemala funding for outreach, grassroots visits, and maintaining the functioning of the party organisation is expected to be provided during weekly visits.
The high and growing costs of politics excludes ordinary citizens from the political space. Young and, in particular, female aspirants are particularly constrained by a lack of funds and wider societal attitudes. A further impact of the high costs of seeking elective office is the increased incentive for winners to engage in corrupt practices to continue to recoup their investment and meet continued constituent demands when in office.
To reduce the costs outlaid on seeking office, the three reports point to combined efforts that link new, stronger and more enforceable campaign finance regulations with greater civic education for voters about the role that elected representatives should play. In Honduras, as it is elsewhere in the region, the role of civil society organisations is crucial to demand and supervise the application of norms independently from the government and to help put an end to the perception that there is complicity from institutions in charge of preventing, controlling and sanctioning the misuse of state resources for political gain.