Operation Manuel Valls: how his Barcelona campaign was funded

A group of businesspeople agreed to pay Valls a net monthly salary of €20,000 starting in autumn last year

àlex Font Manté / Gerard Pruna / Anna Mascaró / Albert Martín
7 min
Manuel Valls, el dia en què va anunciar que es presentava a les eleccions

BarcelonaIt was March, just over two months before the local elections, when a group of about fifty members of Barcelona city’s establishment met at a dinner in support of Manuel Valls, who was running for city mayor. Some of the businesspeople and executives who were closest to Valls in his attempt to become the next mayor of Barcelona were in attendance. Others who were not as close were also present, as was Susana Gallardo, Valls’ current partner and heiress to Almirall, a Barcelona-based pharma company. Some of those who attended the meal will never forget one sight in particular: as Manuel Valls greeted them, some of the guests reached for their wallet and gave the candidate a wad of cash to fund his campaign.

One month later, during the Conde de Godó tennis tournament held in Barcelona, well-known head-hunter Luis Conde —who has never been shy about his fondness for Valls— approached the mayor-hopeful and asked him how he might be of assistance. Valls’ answer was very straightforward: “I need cash and votes”.

The need to raise funds has been a permanent concern for the former French PM since he considered a career in municipal politics and, in fact, the source of his funding has been one of the major questions looming over him all this time, since Valls didn’t have a party structure of his own beyond the support he was given by Ciudadanos. This newspaper has interviewed about twenty people, some of whom have asked not to be named, in order to paint a picture of Valls’s crusade to raise campaign funds and also to secure income for himself.

The cash came in, indeed. And not just from Barcelona. Even thought the purpose was to fund the election campaign in the capital of Catalonia, much of it also came from Madrid. However, as the campaign progressed, Valls’ team struggled to raise all the funds they needed.

The inception

It all began with a meal. After Manuel Valls had been active in the campaign for the Catalan elections held on December 21, 2017, the Barcelona-born politician became an increasingly permanent fixture in the Catalan city. Eventually, top Catalan businessmen such as Mariano Puig (the former chairman of the Puig perfume corporation) held dinners at home so that the local bourgeoisie could get to know a political leader whose entire career had been forged in France and, therefore, was not known to the city’s elite. There was also a meal at a Hotusa group hotel, owned by Amancio López and, some time later, another at Isak Andic’s home. Even though the founder of Mango denies having hosted the meal, our sources have confirmed it. One of the guests at those get-togethers recalls how “the first few times people were curious about Valls”. According to another, “many were in awe of the fact that he had been the prime minister of France”. Those in attendance at these dinners all shared the same concern about the political situation. A source indicates that “having a pro-independence mayor would be a significant achievement for independence supporters”.

At one of those meals the issue of the finances cropped up. The Catalan business community are generally very reluctant to disclose which political party they support. One diner says that “at dinner they pondered whether there was any way of getting Valls the cash without this being traced back to anyone. They discussed how contributions could be made without any names being disclosed and we agreed that this would be looked into”.

Perhaps at the time they were not fully aware of the secrecy with which Spain’s Court of Auditors —the only body which knows the names of donors— deals with that sort of information. It is never disclosed. At present the law in Spain mandates that companies may not make donations to political parties, but it is perfectly legal for private individuals to contribute up to €50,000 a year on a personal basis. In a recent interview with this newspaper, Valls noted that “we have received many contributions which are nowhere near that figure”. A member of his team stated that “many gave a very small amount”.

In one of those get-togethers, Manuel Valls specified the amount he expected he would need before and during the election campaign: office space had to be rented and staffed, and so forth. Right then he made another demand: a net monthly wage of €20,000 for himself. This request, which has been confirmed by four difference sources and hasn’t been denied by any of the people interviewed, came as a surprised to those present. “People were thrown when Valls asked for that kind of cash for himself. It’s not very elegant”, an executive says. Still, when the shock was over, his request was granted: “this is more common abroad and Valls is a professional”.

ARA’s sources could not pinpoint the exact time when that compensation was agreed upon, although most assume that payments began when Valls gave up his seat in the French National Assembly on October 2 last year, through to the local elections in Spain at the end of May. A total of eight months. In fact, Valls’ reason for asking to be paid a monthly sum was that he had to step down as MP in France. One of the people who helped fund his campaign remarks that “he had his salary as a member of the French National Assembly, which he had to give up”.

At any rate, €20,000 a month is a far larger sum than the remuneration of a French MP, which does not exceed a gross monthly salary of €7,239 at best. Valls was not entitled to any compensation as former prime minister, a position which he stepped down from in late 2016. In France former prime ministers only receive their monthly salary for three months after giving up their job and they are not entitled to an office. However, they are provided with a security detail and a chauffeur-driven government car for the rest of their life. Twenty thousand euros a month, net, is much more than the salary of the president and prime minister of France (€14,910)

Where did the money come from?

The question is this: who contributed cash to finance Manuel Valls’ campaign and pay him a salary all those months? On this point we should distinguish three different groups: those who made a donation, the ones who raised funds and those who did both.

Among the latter is Félix Revuelta, the chairman of Naturhouse, who is not coy about having having helped Manuel Valls financially and having facilitated many useful contacts: “I virtually introduced him to all of Spain’s top key business leaders, including former prime ministers Felipe González and José María Aznar”, he recalls. In fact, most of the people interviewed by this newspaper agree that a good deal of the campaign funds came from Madrid. A person in the know points out that “it’s much easier to raise funds in Madrid, among other reasons because in Barcelona the cash comes out of people’s pockets, whereas in Madrid it is registered as a business expense”. Furthermore, according to his team, Valls found businesspeople in Madrid to be more “enthusiastic” and “appreciative” than in Barcelona, where the sentiment was more muted.

Another active player was Josep Ramon Bosch, who stepped down as president of [unionist lobby] Societat Civil Catalana this week and is regarded by many as the key fund raiser with Madrid’s business community. Bosch has a good working relationship with the Spanish capital’s Cículo de Empresarios (Business Circle) and some of its former presidents also got involved in Valls’ fund raising efforts. Two names stand out among those who put in the most work for Valls’ cause: Javier Vega de Seoane (the chairman of DKV, an insurance firm) and Claudio Boada (Blackstone’s main advisor in Spain). Blackstone is real estate investment fun that has purchased many assets in the country. Some sources have indicated that both men contributed cash of their own, too. When approached by this newspaper on the subject, both declined to comment.

In Barcelona, the key people entrusted with fundraising work were Carlos Rivadulla, the president of Empresaris de Catalunya (a unionist business lobby) and a member of Valls’ slate, together with Jaime Malet, the chairman of the US Chamber of Commerce in Spain and an executive who has been very active against the independence movement. Malet is also the CEO of Telam, a consulting company where Javier Vega de Seoane is a partner.

Jaime Malet —who declined to speak to this newspaper— also asked top private business school ESADE to offer Manuel Valls a job as a lecturer, a proposition which was welcomed by Eduardo Berché, the dean of the law school. ESADE’s board of directors gave it their thumbs-up, but the decision sent “shockwaves” across the business school’s board of trustees. Nevertheless, our sources suggest that Valls earned little from his teaching position over a single trimester.

Luis Hernández de Cabanyes, the president of real estate firm Renta Corporación, is another business executive who got very involved. When approached by this newspaper, he admitted that he’d helped Valls, but denied any cash donations.

Everyone we interviewed for this feature assumes that, for obvious reasons, Susana Gallardo also contributed to her fiancé’s campaign, both financially as well as providing contacts within Barcelona’s high society. The one thing which many of those involved have in common is that they are members of the Joan Boscà foundation, a group founded in 2014 to thwart Catalonia’s independence bid. Josep Ramon Bosch, Claudio Boada, Félix Revuelta, Jaime Malet and Javier Vega de Seoane are all members of the foundation’s board of trustees. However, Revuelta claims that the foundation “did not play a role at all” [in the Manuel Valls operation].

The list of donors goes beyond the names mentioned in this feature, but the secrecy that surrounds the operation has made it impossible for ARA to double-check all the names provided by our sources.

The kitty runs dry

Manuel Valls’ circle complains that, despite the promises made, at the end there wasn’t as much cash as expected initially. A politician close to Valls complains that “people pledge to contribute more than they actually do”. Carlos Rivadulla notes that they “didn’t run a lavish campaign, despite what’s been said: we were given nothing for free”, he complains. This member of Valls’ team was still asking for donations only days before the local elections. A Catalan real estate businessman agreed to meet him but, when he was asked to make a donation, he refused because he “didn’t want any trouble”.

The fact is, Manuel Valls was the worst hit by the growing loss of electoral appeal suffered by Ciudadanos, the party with which he ran in the Barcelona mayoral election. Albert Rivera’s party had some clout with certain Catalan businesspeople, but it evaporated in the last year, as reported by this newspaper. Pedro Sánchez’s successful vote of no-confidence against former PM Mariano Rajoy meant that the business community that supported a third way for Catalonia (1) suddenly shifted their hopes towards the PSOE, leaving Ciudadanos —and Valls— high and dry.

How do donations to political parties work?

“I still have my wits about me and I think that if you aim to be the mayor of Barcelona, the companies that work in the city cannot possibly lend you their support”. This is what Manuel Valls stated on October 4 at a private function in the Cercle del Liceu. Indeed, businesses may not directly help any candidate because the law in Spain does not allow firms to fund political parties. However, individual donations are perfectly legal, with one limitation: there is €50,000 yearly cap. All donations must be reported to Spain’s Court of Auditors and, if they exceed €25,000, this must be done without delay (no later than three months). At any rate, the Court of Auditors is very protective of this information. As a member of Valls’ team, Carlos Rivadulla, explains “the Court of Auditors is like the Tax Office: it does not divulge any information”.

The truth is, a local election campaign, even in a city like Barcelona, is much cheaper than the campaign for an election in Catalonia or Spain. According to Rivadulla, Valls has spent €178,000 during the campaign itself, which is the limit set on the candidates that were running for city mayor. Rivadulla believes this is “the figure that nearly all parties will have spent”. But when asked how much Valls spent during the long warm-up period ahead of the campaign itself, Rivadulla’s reply is laconic: “I can’t answer that”.


Translator’s note:

(1) The so-called third way rejects independence but endorses granting greater powers to Catalonia. A devolution max of sorts.