Today, the Money, Politics and Transparency (MPT) project, a joint-initiative between the Sunlight Foundation, Global Integrity and the Electoral Integrity Project, is excited to release a new set of resources that expose money’s troubling role in political parties and election campaigns globally.
Our revamped Money, Politics and Transparency website now includes a first-of-its-kind dataset and series of case studies documenting campaign finance transparency practices globally. We are also fueling next steps for policy advocates through the release of the Declaration on Political Finance Openness for public comment.
Global dissatisfaction with the funding of political parties and elections is undeniable. Citizens, advocates, journalists and policymakers often voice concerns about the associated risks of corruption, undue influence and the potential for abuse of state resources that money’s role presents. However, our new findings substantiate vague anecdotes of corrupt practices and cronyism with a rigorous methodology that gives national-level reformers a starting point to inform their advocacy efforts. The Campaign Finance Indicators systematically assess the regulation and enforcement of political finance across 54 diverse countries, while the in-depth comparative case studies shed light on ways in which states around the world attempt to regulate the role of money in politics, what triggers landmark reforms as well as what works, what fails and why. Finally, the MPT Declaration builds upon the research components and existing international standards for combating corruption to create an affirmative vision for reforming political finance systems.
The Campaign Finance Indicators and case studies reveal the following key challenges in regulating political finance practices:
- Systems of public funding for political parties and elections are often unfairly distributed and ripe for abuse. Although public funding programs are often employed to prevent political actors from relying solely on private sector donors, these systems are often inequitably implemented. In 94 percent of the countries researched in the Campaign Finance Indicators, political actors deploy state resources for electoral gain. Abuses take diverse forms, ranging from the relatively mundane (traveling to campaign events in state-owned helicopters in Bangladesh) to the dramatic (deploying agents of the national intelligence agency in Korea).
- Details on how political parties and elections are funded are still distressingly opaque. Despite widespread efforts globally to strengthen disclosure requirements, full details on the donations and expenditures of political actors are rarely publicly available — and they are even less likely to be usable. In 96 percent of the Campaign Finance Indicators sample, there is limited or no information on the financial activities of political actors made available to the public in a timely fashion, online and in an accessible format. In fact, only the U.S. and Australia make all reported political finance information available online in machine-readable formats.
- Scandals can power political finance reform. The cross-national evidence shows that rational political parties are responsive to corruption scandals and demands of powerful interest groups. Italy, for example, had no legislation regarding the funding of political parties until 1974, when a scandal generated citizen mistrust and the first political finance law was passed in a record 40 days.
- Widespread lack of regulation of third-party actors contributes to poor oversight and lack of transparency in political finance systems. Third-party actors who solicit contributions and make expenditures related to electoral campaigns are rarely subject to oversight. Only 11 percent of the countries researched in the Campaign Finance Indicators regulate the electoral activities of nonprofits, unions and independent expenditure groups.
- Regulations are only meaningful when there is a capability for enforcement — which is highly restricted in many states. Partisan appointments, insufficient staff and budget, and a lack of substantive legal power hinder oversight bodies in countries as diverse as the U.S., Romania, Nigeria and Russia, and can lead to corruption and imbalanced party competition.
These findings confirm the weighty challenges that lay ahead for the political finance reform community (a network that can be found through the MPT google group). There is much work to be done, but also unlimited potential for progress, and a diverse global community dedicated to this issue is essential to generating change.
Today, we are also excited to launch the Declaration on Political Finance Openness. It’s intended to build consensus among the interests of the community monitoring political finance, uniting CSOs, journalists, academics and even civic hackers behind an affirmative vision for what we believe a robust, open and accountable political finance system looks like. The forthcoming provision commentary will also be released this fall alongside the finalized document, which will provide background, specific examples and guidance for policymakers. We hope that the MPT Declaration will ultimately become a platform that advocates can present to political parties and government officials to support their campaigns for reform.
We are now opening up the document for a public comment period to ensure that the MPT Declaration truly encompasses the widest range of perspectives from the global community. We welcome and encourage you to provide feedback on the document by commenting on the Money, Politics and Transparency web page. Additionally, if you have any questions about the MPT Declaration or would like to share comments privately, please direct them to Sunlight International Policy Analyst Lindsay Ferris at firstname.lastname@example.org. We believe that the Declaration of Political Finance Openness will only be as strong as the champions behind it. We look forward to hearing from you.