The financial transparency of political parties and their democratic functioning at regional level - CPR (7) 7 rev. Part II

Rapporteur: Claude HAEGI (Switzerland)

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EXPLANATORY MEMORANDUM

Democracy is valued throughout the Council of Europe as a precious asset.1 While this assertion ought to be indisputable, it actually encapsulates the problem on which I will base my deliberations. The very words “valued”, “precious” and “asset” may, in fact, demonstrate more eloquently than any long arguments a reality which, although often obscured, cannot easily be avoided: democracy has a price.

It would be hypocritical to deny the obvious: election campaigns cost money. The emergence of what the Americans were the first to dub “mass politics” has been accompanied by increasing media coverage of political life and public debate. As a result, more and more money (amounting to very considerable sums) has been invested in politics, and that investment has played an increasingly critical role in the outcome of elections.

The other side of the coin is that the media, although significant contributors to the soaring cost of political life, have also - by uncovering various scandals - been instrumental in recent years in convincing the public of the need to make political party financing more transparent. In various countries the media and the courts have thus taken on the role of ruthlessly exposing financial impropriety, with the result that the public image of democracy - fragile at the best of times - has been further dented by a string of headlines on, for example, the revelations of the Mani pulite campaign, the Agusta, Urba and MNEF affairs, the scandal involving a former head of the Spanish Civil Guard and the financial skulduggery in one of Germany’s leading political parties.

The problem

The developments described above have two consequences.

1. What is scandalous is not so much the mushrooming cost of political life (affecting different countries to a greater or lesser degree), but the way that this trend, far from being accepted and addressed, has, in fact, been covered up - leaving scope for a whole range of machinations, some of which are not only morally reprehensible but may also distort the democratic process.

2. The “voter-as-consumer”, who has always had the right to choose between candidates and political programmes put forward by the various parties canvassing electoral support, now has what amounts to a further “right”: to know how much financial backing those candidates and programmes have, and where it comes from, because this information, just as much as the details of the candidates and programmes themselves, may influence the way he or she votes.

    Anti-corruption experts from the Council of Europe member states, at their third conference in Madrid in October 1998, reasserted the dual necessity of curbing expenditure on politics on the one hand, while ensuring, on the other, that a substantial proportion of political funding comes from the public purse. They also called on the Council of Europe to draw up a common set of rules for developing transparent party funding arrangements.

    Experience in western countries has shown, however, that there are no easy answers when it comes to:

      - preventing abuses (corruption, fraud, concealment etc);

    - ensuring (through greater transparency) that hidden funds do not become a distorting factor in the democratic process by tipping the scales in favour of certain parties or candidates.

    Useful reference texts

    The Council of Europe could not ignore the change in public attitudes with regard to political financing. Two anti-corruption conventions were signed in 1999, the Criminal Law Convention on Corruption (ETS 173) on 21 January and the Civil Law Convention on Corruption (ETS 174) on 4 November, following the submission of opinions by the Parliamentary Assembly (Opinion 207 of 23 June 1998 and Opinion 213 of 26 May 1999 respectively). The CLRAE has, during its plenary Session in June 1999, accepted a report presented by Mr Viorel Coifan on "The political integrity of local and regional elected representatives" (CG (6) 8). Clearly we should look first to these texts, not forgetting, however, that corruption or the absence of integrity among politicians is just one aspect (albeit the most extreme and reprehensible) of the problem of financing in politics and the transparency of that financing.

    Other useful material is to be found in the work of the European Commission for Democracy through Law (the Venice Commission), which has for some time been studying constitutional and legislative provisions on the financing of political parties. A questionnaire on this subject was sent to 33 countries and the replies published in document CDL-PP (3) Bil. Six questions were asked:

    1. What is the legal framework for the activities of political parties?

    2. What are the rules for elections and pre-election campaigns, concerning (a) the use of party resources, (b) other sources of funding, and (c) any upper limits of financing?

    3. Which state bodies and institutions have the authority to control the financing of political parties?

    4. What is the case law concerning issues of the financing of political parties?

    5. What are the deficiencies - if any - of the current legislation?

    6. [Are there any] other problems/ specific comments?

    For the purposes of this report I took a similar approach: with the help of the Chamber of Regions secretariat I sent a questionnaire (appended) to the various delegations to the CLRAE. Despite its concision, this document was returned by only thirteen delegations, so the findings do not provide an adequate statistical basis.

    I was therefore obliged to turn to other sources including the replies to the Venice Commission questionnaire on political party financing at national level. The first lesson to be drawn from my experience here is that we still lack a well maintained database on the rules governing political party financing at regional level, and that one of our aims should be to make good this shortcoming;

    The replies that the Venice Commission received - recorded in a 200-page document published in 1998 - are clearly a valuable source of information for assessing the situation at national level. But inevitably the amount of detail supplied and the quality of the replies vary from country to country. Moreover, of the 33 countries to which the questionnaire was sent, five (Argentina, Canada, Japan, Kazakhstan and Uruguay) are not seeking Council of Europe membership. Of the rest, 25 are member states and three (Armenia, Azerbaijan and Bosnia and Herzegovina) have applied for membership. At the same time, there are major “gaps” in the questionnaire’s coverage: Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom (to name but three examples) are not included.

    Two further useful documents came to my attention. The first (DIR/JUR (95) 3) dates from 1995. It contains replies to a questionnaire on political party financing sent out by the Council of Europe Directorate of Legal Affairs to 17 countries, and fills in some of the information gaps, notably in relation to the three countries mentioned above, as well as Belgium, Luxembourg, Cyprus, Greece and Sweden. It should, however, be borne in mind that the information is less recent and less detailed than that gathered by the Venice Commission.

    The second document, which is a contribution to general thinking on the problem, is the Recommendation of the Committee of Ministers to member states on measures concerning media coverage of election campaigns (Recommendation R (99) 15).

    Lastly, the work of bodies other than the Council of Europe should also be mentioned. Of particular relevance is a study carried out in 1991 by the European Parliament’s Directorate-General 4 (Research) on the financing of political parties in the member states of the European Community (Research and Documentation Dossiers, Political Series, No 12, 9-1991). This covers the 12 countries then members of what has become the European Union.

    The main sources of political party financing

    Indirect financing

    Parties can raise a proportion of their funds indirectly, through the work of elected representatives, most of whom operate under a party banner (members of parliament receive attendance fees and members of the government are remunerated). We must therefore take a close look at the laws or regulations governing such payments, not forgetting the provisions for covering certain expenses connected with political activity, rather than the activity itself.

    All these sums of money come from public funds, to which the principle of transparency applies at least to some extent, provided one takes the trouble to enquire. At a time when holding elected or government office is increasingly a form of career (albeit on fixed-term contracts), this funding represents the necessary basic “cost of democracy”.

    Matters become more complicated when we consider the variable proportions of such fees and expenses that the office-holders pass on to their parties. To date, it would seem that this question has been quietly left to the discretion of the individual parties.

    A distinction must therefore be drawn between the financing of public life generally and the financing of political parties in the strict sense, bearing in mind the grey area between the two, which, far from being regulated, is normally regarded as a matter for the political parties themselves.

    Direct financing

    The main traditional sources of party financing are membership dues, income from property, revenue from activities such as the sale of newspapers or other publications, party fêtes and similar social events and occasional public collections, and the contributions of affiliated associations and trade unions. As a rule, the laws governing such resources have been framed fairly liberally, prohibiting or restricting only those forms of fund-raising (commercial activities, for example) that have no real connection with a party’s raison d’être. One should not, however, underestimate the fund-raising potential of associations that operate within the orbit of political parties. Similarly, the sums raised in collections can sometimes be substantial.

    It is clear nonetheless that - at least in the case of the major political movements in relatively wealthy countries where politics is now a “mass” activity conducted through the media - the importance of these traditional resources as a proportion of overall party financing has declined markedly in recent decades.

    By contrast, parties are now surer of a proportion of their financing from another source. Most states today have introduced direct public funding of political parties because they see them as an expression of the diversity of opinion on which democracy is founded. The sums of money paid out in this way - from the public purse and thus ultimately by taxpayers - can be very considerable. For that reason, in some countries at least, they constitute a powerful argument for greater supervision of the money that passes through party hands.

    We have covered a number of the main sources of party funding, both internal (membership dues, newspaper sales, revenue from events and collections and from various products) and external (the public funding of parties, the financing of elected representatives and political groups). The only external resources considered so far have been those derived from public funds, and thus in principle governed by a legislative and regulatory framework about which anyone can obtain information.

    A more critical question, with regard to transparency, is that of external resources derived from private funds. Obviously these include the gifts and legacies (some of them substantial) that a political party, as a body contributing to the public interest, is entitled to receive. The donors may be individuals or legal entities (associations or companies). Historically, this source of funding has always been an important one for a number of political movements. We can also assume that certain regionally based parties, which campaign on behalf of cultural minorities or regional identities, for example, receive substantial funding of this type.

    The problem is not the existence of such donations, but the electorate’s right to know how much money comes from these external sources. In some countries, where even greater transparency is required, voters are entitled to know the names of those who donate more than a certain sum (and anonymous donations are prohibited).

    Current national legislation

    National legislative provision varies greatly. One is struck first by the significant number of countries belonging to the Anglo-Saxon or Scandinavian tradition, plus several others such as Switzerland, Luxembourg and Cyprus, that have no specific legislation on political parties per se, much less their sources of funding.2 In many such cases, political parties do not receive direct public funding (as opposed to the indirect funding - described above - which depends on actual parliamentary activity and is generally guaranteed and regulated).3

    We should be duly conscious that strict regulations do not necessarily lead rapidly or ineluctably to political rectitude. The cases of the United Kingdom and Germany, countries of similar size, illustrate this point. The problems of political financing are no greater in the former, which has no specific legislation, than in the latter, which - following an initial scandal (the Flick affair in the early 1980s) - significantly improved and toughened its legislation between 1993 and 1994, only to be rocked just recently by another scandal. On the other hand it is reasonable to suppose that the tougher the legislation the greater the likelihood of wrongdoings coming to light and, in some cases, turning into scandals.

    In stark contrast to the states that do not regulate in this field, we have all the central and east European countries where, immediately after the collapse of the former regimes, specific and often detailed laws4 on political parties and their financing were passed, and in some cases have been amended several times. These laws, many of which are quite complex, pose a problem with regard to effective implementation. While their provisions vary greatly they share the same central aim: to prevent any branch of the administration or other state body, whether at central, regional or local level, from financially supporting one party to the detriment of the rest.5 This concern to keep parties on an equal footing and maintain the state’s political neutrality typifies the desire to break with the legacy of the past.

    Generally, under the national legislation that we have studied, four main areas are regulated: traditional sources of finance resulting from political parties’ activities; public subsidies to parties; limits on election campaign expenditure; and arrangements for private donations.

    1. Sources of financing related to party activities

      As a rule there are no restrictions on traditional resources (membership dues, money raised at political meetings, revenue from the sale of publications etc), provided there is a sufficiently clear link with the party’s political purpose. By contrast, purely commercial activities are often either prohibited or strictly limited. This applies in particular to the acquisition of shareholdings in commercial companies - although banning such activity outright poses constitutional problems, as was demonstrated in a recent case before the Czech Constitutional Court, which set aside certain relevant provisions of the law on political parties. Under new amended legislation, political parties may now buy shares in publishing companies, cultural events and companies with which they have advertising contracts.

    Are political parties, like other companies or associations, entitled to buy radio and television advertising? Legislation giving them this right has recently been passed in certain countries but these remain a minority and it is still general practice to prohibit such advertising, which is very costly and lies outside the conventional, regulated channels of political propaganda (such as poster campaigns, the distribution of leaflets and brochures, the publication of books and the use of free airtime during election campaigns).

    2. The regulation of public funding for political parties

    2.1 Assistance with the financing of parliamentary groups

    The subsidising of parties’ parliamentary activities (through, for example, help with political groups’ secretarial needs, the payment of attendance fees and the reimbursement of members’ expenses) is everywhere well established, and in some cases long established, as part of the system whereby the state finances its own functioning, of which parliament naturally constitutes a key element. There is less consensus, however, about a similar level of support for political groups and members of regional assemblies, many of which depend on subsidies from central government that are often insufficient. Given that the real priorities of states and their governments are reflected in budgets rather than policy statements, it would be instructive to conduct a comparative study of the sums allocated to run both national parliaments and regional assemblies (weighting the figures to reflect the size of the populations respectively represented).

    A more comprehensive study of the legal bases for this financing would also be interesting. In France, for example, the current law (of January 1995) applies only to regions, to départements [counties] and to municipalities with more than 100,000 inhabitants, with the result that smaller municipalities no longer have any legal basis on which to subsidise political groups in the municipal council. The law is carefully worded, referring to “groups of elected members” (rather than political groups). Each region receives a global allocation, fixed at national level and not exceeding 25% of the total allowances payable to regional assembly members (in a large region such as Rhône-Alpes this represents more than FF 8 million).6 In the absence of any specific statutory provision, the region itself distributes this sum at its discretion among the “groups of elected members”. Some regions choose to favour small groups by fixing a relatively high block payment per group, the remainder of the overall allocation being distributed according to the number of seats the groups hold, while others prioritise the latter criterion.

    Otherwise, direct public support for political parties - which, when it exists (and it is far from universal, see above) is always regulated and subject to specific controls - takes two main forms:

      – subsidies paid directly to parties on the basis of “objective” criteria such as their representation in parliament and/or their share of the vote in the most recent elections;
      – part reimbursement of election campaign expenses - once again depending, as a rule, on the parties’ share of the vote.

    2.2 Direct financial subsidies

    The basic principle on which parties receive assistance from public funds is that of equal treatment for all parties represented in the national parliament. The allocation is then weighted to reflect the different parties’ share of the poll in the last general election. This second, purely quantitative, criterion tends, in general, to correct imbalances. In certain cases, however, it also allows public subsidies to be paid to parties that, despite a certain level of electoral support, have failed to win a single seat in parliament. The Romanian legislation of 1996, for example, includes very explicit provisions to this effect: subsidies are payable annually to all parties represented in parliament and to those that received at least 2% of the vote in the last general election. Likewise, under Swedish legislation (passed in 1966) public subsidies are payable to all parties represented in the Riksdag [parliament] or having received more than 2.5% of the vote in the last general election. Similarly, under Norwegian law the level of national subsidy payable to parties depends on their score at the most recent local and regional elections: the sums of money are transferred to the municipalities and counties, which then apportion them among the political movements within their jurisdiction. The municipalities and counties are legally entitled to top up these payments from their own funds if they so wish.

    More generally, this raises the question of how to treat parties whose significant regional support is too narrow for them to be represented in the national parliament - a situation that, under current legislation in certain countries, penalises them in terms of public funding. One potential solution is to emulate the Danish and German provisions whereby parties are entitled to a certain amount of money for every vote they receive: DEM 1.3 in Germany, provided they win at least 1% of the poll in regional (Länder) elections;7 and DKK 2.5 for each vote above a threshold level of 500 in Danish county elections. Otherwise, some regions with legislative power have adopted specific legislation concerning the direct public financing of political parties. In this case, it is by being represented in the Regional Assembly which allows a party to benefit from these laws8 ; the distribution is made on the prorata basis of seats and/or votes obtained in the last regional legislative elections.

    2.3 Reimbursement of election campaign expenses

    It is recognised that election campaigns are increasingly expensive although their cost varies greatly from country to country, depending largely on the size of the state and its level of prosperity. Even in those countries that do not subsidise political parties as such, the principle of public assistance with election campaigning is generally accepted. In particular, this takes the form of providing free poster sites and offering substantial discount on public services (eg special postage rates for the distribution of manifestos and other electoral material). Whatever the type of election (local, regional or general), local authorities must make premises available free of charge for use as polling stations, and supply the facilities and staff needed to conduct the election properly. As a rule, they are legally entitled to compensation for these services. In the case of general elections, and less commonly regional elections, there are equitable arrangements (again based in most cases on shares of the poll at national level only) for giving parties free airtime on public television channels.

    The different parties also receive state financial assistance with the cost of electoral campaigning. In principle the level of subsidy reflects their performance in general elections - almost always the single, or main, yardstick used to gauge their support.

    France has an unusual system in that a party’s entitlement to public subsidy, irrespective of its performance at the polls, depends on its putting forward candidates in at least 50 constituencies (somewhat less than 10% of the total number). The system has, however, been criticised for encouraging the creation of phoney political parties with no real public support and the sole aim of putting up candidates in order to attract subsidies. It should also be noted that there is no regional financing of elections in France: even regional elections are funded from the state budget and the money is administered by the political elections departments of the préfectures [county-level administrative offices of the state].

    In Italy, under the law on party financing approved (by 56.4% of voters) in a referendum in 1976, just under a quarter of the state budget for party funding is paid out to parties that put up candidates in more than two-thirds of the constituencies - a much higher eligibility threshold than that in France. (The remaining three-quarters of the relevant budget is apportioned to the parties represented in parliament, according to the number of seats they hold.)

    As a general rule, where states contribute to parties’ electoral expenditure they also control that expenditure and often put a ceiling on it.

    3. Controlling election expenditure

    In return for assistance with the cost of electoral campaigning, parties are required to submit reports on their campaign expenditure, usually to the national parliament or in some cases to a ministry (the Ministry of Finance, for example, or the ministry with responsibility for associations). In quite a few countries a court of auditors is also involved and deals with the technical aspects of the supervision procedure. In Denmark, county councils audit regional election campaign accounts and their decisions may be appealed to an ad hoc body comprising four local authority representatives plus a Chair, who represents the relevant central authority (the Ministry of the Interior).

    Probably in order to prevent election costs mushrooming, the general trend now is to place a ceiling on parties’ expenditure. Parties that exceed the stipulated figure are required, at least, to pay a sum equivalent to the overspend, or have their subsidies cut or cancelled, and increasingly these penalties are accompanied by the disqualification of offending candidates, thus depriving them of their seats or barring them from standing again. In certain countries, parties are required to open special election campaign accounts, which are supposed to facilitate the monitoring of their expenditure. On the other hand, there are fewer examples of specific rules (such as those introduced in Belgium in 1994) to limit expenditure on regional elections.

    4. Rules governing discretionary donations

    4.1 Forms of donation limited or prohibited

    While public subsidies must be available to all political parties on the basis of objective criteria rationally fixed by statute, donations and bequests are selective expressions of support for one party as opposed to another. For that reason, neither the state nor undertakings connected with it in any way, nor companies in which public authorities hold more than a certain proportion of the share capital (the proportion varies from country to country) are permitted to make this type of selective contribution to a particular party. Such donations must therefore come from private funds.

    Gifts from individuals and public or private legal entities of foreign nationality are prohibited or restricted in most countries. The concern here is that non-nationals, who by definition are not entitled to vote, could nonetheless exert financial leverage on the national political scene. But is it feasible, at least in the European Union, to retain such prohibitions, which are surely bound to be relaxed over time? It is relevant here to consider the example of Germany, which on the one hand permits donations by individual citizens of other EU states, but prohibits those from non-German legal entities unless more than half their share capital is in German hands.

    Nor can we overlook the case of like-minded parties that work through international or European inter-party unions and federations, and benefit (either overtly or more often tacitly) from more flexible treatment under national laws.

    It is fair to say that, with the exception of donations from foreigners, private gifts and bequests to political parties are generally permitted. In certain countries, however (notably where, as in Belgium, parties do not have legal personality), donations may not be made directly to a party itself but must pass through an educational or civic association that has links with it.

    4.2 The requirement to publish details of donations

    While donations are generally permitted, the identity of donors must, in most countries, be revealed if their contributions exceed a certain amount. But the outright banning of anonymous donations remains exceptional. The Canton of Geneva recently moved in this direction by passing a new law on political party financing, on 24 June 1999, prohibiting anonymous donations or those made under pseudonyms, and stipulating that every member of the public is entitled to consult political parties’ accounts and lists of donors. This system has the advantage of ensuring maximum transparency although fears have been expressed in certain quarters that it may deter donors. It will take a few years to determine whether such fears are justified.

    Many countries stipulate a maximum annual level of donations (because parties produce their accounts annually), in excess of which the naming of a donor is obligatory. Examples of such figures are: DEM 20,000 in Germany, NLG 10,000 in the Netherlands, CZK 100,000 in the Czech Republic, SKK 10,000 in Slovakia, 25.000 lats in Latvia9, BEF 20,000 in Belgium, ITL 200 million in Italy, ESP 10 million in Spain, 500 times the minimal salary in Portugal, NOK 20,000 in Norway and IEP 100 in Ireland. Clearly, national legislation varies greatly in this respect, underscoring the need for an instrument to facilitate information and comparison at European level - potentially valuable to countries that wish to draw on experience elsewhere in order to improve their own legislation. Moreover, in some countries, as in Finland, discussions about a new legislation regulating the donations to parties are under way10

    The German system is very favourable: apart from the existence of tax relief on donations to political parties - a system also found in other countries - the parties receive DEM 0.5 of public subsidy for every DEM 1 contributed privately (although this applies only in respect of donations not exceeding DEM 6,000). In Italy there is no limit on donations from legal entities, some of which contribute very substantial sums. In Belgium, by contrast, legal entities are prohibited from donating to parties. In some of the countries in transition (notably Romania, Russia, Poland and Slovenia), the maximum permissible donation is calculated as a multiple of the minimum or average monthly wage.11 In France there is an original and somewhat strict system under which, since 1995, all donations from legal entities to political parties have simply been prohibited. Named individuals may, on the other hand, donate up to FRF 50,000 (any donations in excess of FRF 1000 must be made by cheque). Parties may, however, accept anonymous donations when they organise collections (as explained above, this type of revenue is regarded as deriving from traditional party activity, and the relevant legislation may therefore be less rigorous).12

    The need to examine the problem at regional level

    Most of the available sources of information (of which the principal ones in relation to political party financing are mentioned above) concern the situation at national level. There seems to be little material currently available that is helpful to a regional assessment of the question.

    Yet it is well known that politics is strongly anchored in local and regional life, all the more so in countries with a federal or highly decentralised administrative system and a number of distinct, locally based linguistic, cultural or religious communities.

    It is clear in this context that many parties - whether promoting the aspirations of particular territories or of cultural minorities - have a regional, rather than a nationwide, base. The same applies to those national parties whose potential electorate is located, by virtue of sociological factors, in specific regions.

    When I raised the question of political party financing at the plenary session of the Congress in June 1999, the then Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Daniel Tarschys, said the subject was extremely important and a sore point for our democratic societies, and he encouraged both the Parliamentary Assembly and the Congress to pursue the matter. Like him, I am convinced that the problem also exists at regional level and that the Congress can make a useful, and probably innovative, contribution by adopting not only a report but also a number of resolutions and recommendations on the financing of political parties from a regional perspective.

    It is true that a certain number of member states still lack directly elected regional authorities (and thus have no specifically regional politics), despite the provisions of the draft European Charter of Regional Self-Government. The report I compiled in 1999 on “The current state of and prospects for regionalisation in Europe” is relevant here (CPR (6) 3, Part II). This situation is reflected in the replies - of which unfortunately only thirteen were received - to the questionnaire (appended) sent out to the CLRAE national delegations as part of the process of researching this report. Most of the countries that responded have no directly elected regional bodies. Developments are, however, under way in some of them - Slovakia, for example, where there are plans to regulate public life at regional level, in tandem with a process of regionalisation. Clearly the CLRAE’s work on political party financing at regional level is potentially very valuable in such a situation.

    Nonetheless there is a regional political tier, with regional elections, in a substantial number of countries - and many national parties are organised into local and regional branches. It is thus important to gather more information about national legislative provisions for financing, supervision and transparency at regional level - particularly so with regard to the financing of political groups in regional assemblies. What is the relevant legal base? From what budget is such funding allocated? At what level (national or regional) is it apportioned? With regard to regional elections, there are similar questions concerning the regulation of campaign costs and the reimbursement and control of expenditure.

    It is chiefly in regions with legislative power that the potential exists to regulate these questions independently. The same is true with regard to the issues of direct public subsidy and private donations, which have been addressed, for example, in certain cantons in Switzerland - a country that does not afford political parties any specific constitutional or statutory recognition at federal level. Such issues, especially that of donor anonymity, are vital in terms of transparency. Given that all public subsidies are subject to controls, the key question is how to make those controls effective and thorough. But such controls cannot operate in respect of private donations the amounts and sources of which are unknown.

    The Working Group on Regions with Legislative Power could therefore do some useful initial work by researching and documenting the regulation of political party financing at regional level.

    The next step would be a joint initiative with the Parliamentary Assembly and the Directorate General of Legal Affairs (both of which have already tackled the subject) to study the feasibility of setting up a European observatory on the financing of parties and politics. Such a body would meet the increasingly apparent need for information about, and comparison of, legislation in this field. At the same time it would be good to develop co-operation on the same theme with the Committee of the Regions of the European Union.

    THE FINANCING OF POLITICAL PARTIES AT REGIONAL LEVEL

    Preparation for a report to be submitted to the 7th session of the Chamber of Regions by Mr Claude Haegi (Switzerland)

    QUESTIONNAIRE

    1. Does your country have a specific set of regional-level regulations on the financing of political parties? If so, please give details.

    2. What regulations govern the financing of elections and election campaigns at regional level (specifically in relation to subsidies or the reimbursement of expenditure, any ceiling on expenditure, rules on the use of party funds and conditions in relation to the receipt of donations)?

    3. Are parties permitted to receive anonymous donations or legacies and, if so, up to what value?

    4. Are there regional-level bodies whose task it is to audit political party and election campaign accounts?

    5. Are parties required to publish their accounts at regular intervals?

    6. What arrangements exist for free access to certain media during regional or local election campaigns, and what criteria are used to determine whether parties can avail themselves of such access?

    7. What improvements would you like to see in the auditing of political party financing at regional level?

1 The rapporteur is grateful to Mr François Saint-Ouen, consultant to the Congress, for his help with the preparation of this report.

2 In Switzerland there is increasing interest in the introduction of rules to make the financing of election campaigns more transparent, as several proposals to this effect are currently being considered by the National Council (the people’s chamber of the Federal Assembly).

3 In the UK, however, opposition parties represented in the House of Commons have, since 1975, received public funding in proportion to the number of seats they hold and their share of the vote.

4 The only major exception here is Russia, which treats parties as “political associations”, a sub-category of what are classed as “social associations”, and applies to them many of the same rules that govern the latter.

5 On the other hand, as in many western countries, parties receive financial support from the state on the objective basis of their representativeness, as measured by their score at the most recent elections.

6 These sums are an integral part of the regional budget.

7 The threshold level of electoral support is lower in respect of national and European elections, at just 0.5%. It should also be noted that the “value” of each vote in excess of 5 million drops to DEM 1.

8 See, in this respect, the Law of the Austrian Land of Tyrol from 1994 (art. 2). In Madera, the subvention represents 1/225e of the national minimal salary, by obtained vote.

9 However, the party must give the identity of the donor for each individual gift higher than 1000 lats (600 euros).

10 The limit from which the identity of the donors should be revealed would be 10.000 finish marks (1600 euros).

11 Anonymity is thus prohibited in respect of donations amounting to more than three times the average wage in Slovenia, 10 times the average wage in Poland, 10 times the minimum wage in Romania and 30 times the minimum wage in Russia (or 2000 times the minimum wage in the case of legal entities).

12 French political parties may receive donations only through the intermediary of a fund-raising association or authorised agent, and not directly.



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