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

Rapporteur: Claude HAEGI (Switzerland)



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.

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.