MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico’s electoral agency fined the party of a state gubernatorial candidate $2.75 million Thursday, ruling that he got prohibited support from his influencer wife’s social media posts.
Winning candidate Samuel García and his wife, Mariana Rodríguez, slammed that decision, claiming regulators were treating Rodríguez like an object with a price.
The dispute has raised questions of electoral fairness, freedom of speech and women’s rights. García won the June 6 elections to become the next governor of the northern border state of Nuevo Leon.
Garcia ran for the small Citizen’s Movement party, which said it would appeal the fine. Garcia and Rodriguez were also fined about $22,500.
The couple’s supporters say a wife should be able to support her husband. The electoral agency says Rodríguez’ social media accounts are a business, and the law forbids businesspeople from making in-kind donations. The analogy would be if a candidate’s spouse owned a trucking or catering firm, they would be prohibited from donating food or transportation to the campaign.
“Once again, this seems to me very offensive, that they want to put a price on me,” Rodríguez said in a video, referring to a ruling by the National Electoral Institute, or INE, that the dozens of texts and photos she posted on social media had an aggregate value of almost $1.4 million.
Normally, authorities fine candidates or their parties twice the amount of an illegal donation to discourage the practice.
Lorenzo Córdova, the head of the institute, said Rodríguez’s posts “are a donation in kind in that they gave publicity to her husband’s candidacy. That should have been considered what it was, a campaign donation, and it wasn’t reported.”
Rodriguez said in a statement Thursday she was filing a complaint of sexual discrimination with the country’s National Human Rights Commission.
“We women are not accessories. We are not a product or merchandise with a sticker price. The support I gave to my husband is not a ‘donation in kind’,” she wrote. “We women should not be forced by the INE or anyone else to chose between freely exercising our profession or participating with our spouses.”
That is a somewhat more serious and feminist stance than Rodriguez or her husband have taken in the past. García, 33, is a baby-faced former senator. Rodriguez is better known for posting videos of herself giving makeup tutorials or clutching a small dog.
Most acknowledge that Rodríguez’s 1.7 million followers on Instagram and 44,500 subscribers to her YouTube channel helped win the race for García, drawing complaints that politics in Mexico was becoming a social-media sideshow.
The couple rocketed to fame across Mexico after they posted a video of García and Rodríguez sitting in a car as he named the towns where they had visited on campaign stops. Rodríguez appears to ignore him and then, apparently seeking to change the subject, she turns the camera on herself and says, “Do you want to see my sneakers?” The focus shifts to her phosphorescent orange sneakers as Rodríguez proudly purrs “Fosfo, Fosfo!”
Not coincidentally, orange is the branding color of the Citizen’s Movement party. Rodríguez has since made her orange sneakers a trademark fashion statement.
García himself drew howls in largely impoverished Mexico when, describing what he called his tough upbringing, he recalled how his businessman father used to make him play golf with dad on weekends before allowing him to go out partying during his student years.
García angrily noted that his fine was higher than the $2 million sanction handed out to Mexico’s Green Party, after it was proved the party actually paid social media influencers to support it.