But an analysis of United Russia’s party lists shows that at least 72 of the 600 candidates, or 12 percent, have direct links to big or medium-size businesses. Many of the candidates occupy high spots on the lists, indicating that they have good chances to win Duma seats.
Campaigning for the Dec. 2 vote officially starts Saturday. United Russia is expected to win at least two-thirds of the 450 seats in the Duma.
Putin agreed to lead United Russia’s federal list at an Oct. 1 convention, where he urged party officials to remove business representatives from the party lists. He said Duma deputies should not be engaged in business and businessmen should not be protected by the immunity afforded deputies. “Power and money should stay separated,” he said.
Having ties to a United Russia candidate, however, offers numerous advantages to a business, political analysts said. For a big company, it serves as a show of loyalty to the Kremlin and a signal to investors that the business is stable and promising. For a small company, it is a way to discourage harassment by bribe-hungry fire and tax inspectors, police officers and thugs.
“We have an idiom in Russia that says the closer you are to a cannon, the better it is, meaning it is better to stay on the side of those who have power,” said Mark Urnov, a political scientist at the Higher School of Economics here.
The breakdown of United Russia’s candidates broadly reflects the breakdown of the economy.
The largest number of candidates, 18, come from oil companies, which powers the economy. At least 14 people have links to metals and mining companies, and 6 have worked in the financial sector. Most of the rest represent local businesses that are little known in Moscow but important in the regions.
Many of the candidates are deputies seeking re-election to the Duma. United Russia officials and the deputies themselves stress that they abide by a law that prohibits deputies from holding a second job other than teaching or research.
But the law can be easily skirted. After taking Duma seats, deputies often become board members of their firms and declare themselves in compliance with the law because the position is nonpaying. Another way to get around the law is to re-register firms in the name of a spouse or other relative.
While the analysis of United Russia’s lists connected roughly 12 percent of the 600 candidates to businesses, some analysts said the figure was probably closer to 50 percent.
“Ninety-five percent of the people on United Russia’s lists are bureaucrats, and half of them are engaged in business,” said Vladimir Pribylovsky, head of Panorama, a think tank.
He said Putin’s call for United Russia to get rid of businessmen was meant to curry public favor, not lead to actual change. “What Putin said was mere demagogy,” Pribylovsky said.
But after Putin’s warning United Russia officials did remove several candidates. Gadzhi Makhachev, a United Russia deputy who was arrested in 1967 on rape and robbery charges and spent three years in prison, lost his spot on the list, as did Suleiman Kerimov, listed as a billionaire by Forbes magazine.
Pribylovsky said he knew of several instances of small businesses paying cash for spots low on a United Russia list, knowing they had no chance of getting into the Duma. “To run on a United Russia list means that bandits and the police respect them,” he said. “If they are harassed, they can show the bandits that they are United Russia candidates. It is better than nothing.”
Being a United Russia candidate is also seen by small businessmen as a way to advertise their companies, said Urnov, the political scientist.
Another thing that attracts businesspeople to the Duma is the promise of immunity from prosecution.
The issue became particularly relevant after Mikhail Khodorkovsky, then the chief executive of Yukos, was arrested about a month before the Duma elections in 2003. He had been financing opposition parties.
Spots on United Russia’s lists are not free. Pribylovsky said businessmen have to pay a “membership fee,” the size of which varies depending on how high the spot is on the list.
This year a spot high on a United Russia list costs $2 million to $4 million, double the amount in the 2003 Duma elections, he and other experts said.
United Russia says there is nothing wrong with the way its lists are put together.