After the first round of Ukraine's presidential election a few weeks ago, a group of Democratic former congressmen observing the vote declared that it was basically free and fair and "geared toward the finest methods of ensuring fairness and accuracy."
Their positive assessment ran counter to those of most other observers, including the State Department, a group affiliated with the Republican Party and a coalition of European monitors, who all cited widespread irregularities and called it "a step backwards."
What the congressional group did not say was that its members were recruited and paid $500 a day by a Washington-based lobbyist who is a registered representative of the pro-Russian candidate in the race, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. The prime minister and the chief opposition candidate, former prime minister Viktor Yushchenko, each received 39 percent of the vote on Oct. 31 and will face each other in a runoff tomorrow.
Yanukovych is the clear favorite in Moscow, and Yushchenko is the favorite of European capitals and Washington. The outcome is widely expected to determine whether the strategically located former Soviet bloc nation tilts back toward Russia or turns more toward Western Europe and the United States.
Election monitors are normally unpaid volunteers who get only their expenses paid. Some longtime participants in such delegations are concerned that the Ukraine case and a recent incident involving Cameroon could taint the process of promoting democracy.
The delegation of former lawmakers was led by Robert M. Carr, an 18-year Democratic House veteran from Michigan who is returning with another delegation to observe the runoff.
In the first round, Carr brought former Wisconsin congressmen Peter Barca, Jay Johnson and Jim Moody, as well as Norman D'Amours of New Hampshire, Ronald Coleman of Texas and Mike Ward of Kentucky. Also part of the delegation were Washington political consultants Michael Arno, Bernie Campbell, Richard Pollack and Bernard Whitman, whose company, Whitman Insight Strategies, conducted pre-election polls for a Ukrainian think tank, Carr said.
Carr said members of his delegation were told once they arrived in Kiev that a Ukrainian American was financing the trip, which cost $125,000. He said that, aside from Whitman, none of its 12 members had a business interest in Ukraine or went intending "to develop an interest." Unlike other U.S. election monitors, Carr said, "we didn't go there with our minds made up, and we didn't expect to see it [the first round] run as well as it was."
Moody, the former Wisconsin congressman who now works at the investment-management firm Morgan Stanley, said he did not care who had funded his trip. "The funding did not affect anything I saw," he said. "It seemed to be fair."
The delegation's report was issued in the name of the Alliance for Democracy and Transparency, a Washington-based group set up by Aleksei Kiselev, who is a registered foreign agent representing Yanukovych. Kiselev confirmed during an interview that he had paid for expenses and a stipend of $500 a day for each member.
But he said none of the funds came from the prime minister or the Ukrainian government. He and two other Ukrainian Americans, whom he declined to identify, provided the money, he said.
Kiselev also confirmed Ukrainian news reports that he has spent about $1 million in contracts for five Washington media consultants and public relations firms on behalf of Yanukovych or the Ukrainian government. He said that money also came from himself and the two other Ukrainian Americans.
The contracts went to Venable, Jefferson Waterman International (JWI), DB Communications, White and Case, and Potomac Communications Strategies. Carr said JWI, which is being paid $120,000, handled the delegation's expenses on Kiselev's behalf and chose the political consultants.
Kiselev's filing under the Foreign Agents Registration Act states that he has "an oral contract" to represent the current prime minister and indicates that he himself is not being paid for his services.