Opposition candidate Henrique Capriles typically runs his presidential campaign by jogging through Venezuela’s small towns, reaching out to supporters with both hands and climbing aboard the back of a flatbed truck to speak to hundreds of people. By contrast, President Hugo Chavez brings large sound trucks, a production team and a fleet of buses that carry supporters and government employees to plazas to cheer him on by the thousands. A little more than a month ahead of Venezuela’s Oct. 7 election, Chavez enjoys clear advantages over his challenger in campaign funding and media access. While neither campaign has revealed how much it’s spending, Capriles says he is in a “David vs. Goliath” contest, facing a well-financed incumbent backed by an even richer government. “We’re fighting against two checkbooks. There’s no way to compete economically speaking,” said Rafael Guzman, who is in charge of finances for the opposition coalition. He accused the government of using money from the state oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela SA, and a separate development fund, Fonden, to support Chavez’s campaign and bankroll projects aimed at boosting his support.
Chavez’s allies say Capriles is being backed by business tycoons including fugitive bankers who have fled the country and oppose the president. Chavez’s camp hasn’t provided details of those accusations. The law does not limit individual campaign contributions, though Guzman says the Capriles campaign caps donations it receives at a maximum of 2,000 bolivars ($465), even though people can make many such donations. He said all have come from individuals, none from companies.
“We aren’t receiving anything from businesses,” Guzman said. So far, Capriles’ campaign doesn’t look like it’s rolling in wealth. It has even taken to holding raffles, fundraising dinners and weekend street fairs selling used clothes and donated food.