Representing the Sunlight Foundation, I attended a meeting of political finance professionals on April 22 in Prague. The event took place at the offices of the Central and Eastern European Law Institute in the Villa Grebovka of Prague’s Vinohrady neighborhood. Among the groups represented were International Federation for Electoral Systems, International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Group of States Against Corruption, Global Integrity and the Westminster Foundation for Democracy.
The meeting gave attendees the opportunity to discuss issues facing advocates for political transparency in a setting that encouraged sharing of experiences and comparing of challenges. I discussed the Money, Politics and Transparency project, which brought together civil-society actors across the globe in support of common principles and the creation of a set of indicators to measure political finance integrity. George Kunnath of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy described the “Cost of Politics” project that his organization is pursuing. This study investigates the expenses facing elected officials in a number of different countries. For example, in some African nations, members of Parliament are expected to pay for the funerals of their constituents. Other participants discussed the issue of abuse of state resources – when incumbents use the perks of power to intimidate or even repress their challengers. Representatives of International IDEA and the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy discussed their interest in better understanding the role that gender plays in political finance. Several participants emphasize the importance of implementation: Even the best-designed laws will fall if not applied successfully.
The Czech Republic has been one of the more successful post-Communist states, both in building a capitalist economy and in creating a democratic polity. But its politics have been wracked by scandal. The nation’s system of political party financing has come under repeated criticism by international observers. Two Czech activists, David Ondracka of Transparency International and Vit Simral of Reconstructing the State, made a presentation about their plans to reform political financing. The Czech Chamber of Deputies is considering a bill to improve political transparency. Ondracka and Simral praised the bill, but believe that it can be strengthened by the following:
- Ensuring sufficient regulation of nonparty actors participating in election campaigns, particularly applying the same rules as there are for political parties and movements to companies owned by the parties
- Removing the controversial establishment of political foundations from the bill, or adopting measures that will ensure their independence from the political parties
- Increasing financial sanctions for violating campaign and other rules
- Speeding up the process of adopting the reform so the bill is passed and implemented before the next elections.
The meeting concluded with a discussion of the future of the community and ways to continue the conversation and share ideas. Participants agreed that the Prague event had allowed for the exchange of information posed by the supervision of campaign finance – indeed, some asserted the need for a permanent transnational organization in that issue area. They also believed that the issue of political finance regulation needed to be promoted to both citizens and donors.
This meeting was an important step in Sunlight’s role as a partner in the international community of transparency advocates. We look forward to continued dialogue with our allies around the world.