Speech Made by Christian Nadeau, IFES Moscow Project Director, at the Conference «Election System of Sverdlovsk Oblast as the Basis for the Establishment and Development of the Institution of the Representation and Elected Democracy in the Middle Urals»
Ekaterinburg, 23 October, 1998
1. Dear Mr. Chairman Mostovschikov, Commissioner E.Ischenko , Subject Election Commissioners, ladies and gentleman. I am here today to present briefly an overview of comparative issues in campaign finance. I will be short and invite you to ask questions for more details after the presentation. First, let me give you a few words about the international foundation for electoral systems, IFES, and our work in Russia.
2. IFES has been working around the world for over ten years now, supporting emerging and transitioning democracies by the provision of technical assistance and expert advice to election commissions and civic groups. Our approach, sensitive to the needs of each country and focused on institutional development, has led a sustained growth of the Foundation. Since it's foundation in 1987, IFES has worked in 90 countries around the world; we now has offices in most CIS countries. Here you will find a recollection of efforts of the Foundation in Russia and its current activities. Campaign finance is one of the issues we have been consulted on for some time, and which promises to be a on-going issue in the future. Let us talk first of the international experience, and then present what could be of use in your work. (EXPAND ON 5 YEARS AS APROPIATE)
3. First, let me start out by stating that few countries have achieved a proper balance in campaign finance. Campaign finance is defined in this context as the solicitation and use of money and other contributions by candidates, electoral associations, or blocs to promote their political candidacies. The main issue is how to control the spending of candidates and make their source of funds public. As an answer to this, many jurisdictions such as the United States, Canada, Russia, France, to name a few provide state funds to political parties and/ or their candidates for their campaign - and preclude or limit them from receiving private contributions. Efforts to limit the spending levels of parties and candidates are generally faced with the problem of definition of when a political campaign starts, what is the appropriate ceiling, and what exactly is a contribution to the candidate vs. a certain issue. In the United States, for example, the `98 elections to the governor of California were riddled with interest groups on abortion or the environment doing mass mailings «in the name of» candidate X or Y - totally out of the control of the candidate himself. (elaborate if time).
4. Perhaps as the result of disenchantment with politicians in general, the issue of campaign finance reform has swept western democracies seeking to re-establish confidence in institutions and leaders. The public perception of excessive influence of «big bucks» in politics rather than ideas have brought around interest- and change. Canada, Great Britain, Spain, the United States, Japan and Australia, for example, are all undergoing or have recently undergone major reviews of their campaign finance provisions. One major international trend from that experience is a push towards transparency through disclosure. Since campaign finance is difficult to control, the idea is to let voters decide on their own who is the best candidate while making sure they know who is behind the individual. Disclosure is key, as it has a domino effect. By disclosing the source of funds, a candidate can expect other individual to support him further - or oppose him. What does that entail? How can that be applied within the framework of the Law on Basic Guarantees of Electoral Rights?
5. Disclosure has three components: reporting, access, and publicity requirements. Reporting includes the detail of the receipts and expenditures of funds raised and spent to influence the outcome of the election for a given candidate or association; in essence, all transactions of the campaign should go through one account, as it is the case in the electoral laws of Russia. This reporting is most effective when it is done on a regular basis throughout the campaigning period - not after the election process - to give more information to voters before they make their choice. This is an area where Oblast level electoral laws can go beyond the basic requirements of the law and expand in this direction.
6. Access: The availability of the reported information on a reasonable and ongoing basis to news media, civic associations, and candidates (including opponents) or any other interested party. On this, I invite you to visit the web site of the Federal Election Commission of the United States at WWW.FEC.GOV as an example of unlimited access. You can do a search for the receipts of candidates for any US federal office. This unlimited access has assisted civic organizations and political parties to scrutinize the expenditures of candidates at a low marginal cost to them. These are the same actors which are fueling the raging debate on campaign finance in the US currently.
7. The publicity aspect is the monitoring and publicizing of the campaign information by the news media and civic groups to inform the public. No candidate wants negative publicity in a campaign period. This possibility has a dissuasive effect on the candidates and reinforces campaign finance regulations. For example, if a candidate can document only a fraction of the expenditures which are visible for his campaign, voters will start questioning the candidate and make their own judgement better.
8. The disclosure may be promoted through several means, including the issuance of press releases regarding the availability of candidate reports; the summarizing of candidates' reporting activities; organizing the information in a way that the amount of contribution and expenditure are easily understandable; allowing equal access to media, candidates, and the general public to candidate files.
9. Compliance to the law is also achieved by making the filing process of expenditures easier for candidates. For example, the distribution of a candidate information package which includes all pertinent forms and a laymen summary of what is expected from a candidate. The penalties and risks of not filing on time or properly should be made very clear in the form. Also, having candidate workshops prior to the election, where candidates, the news media, and interested parties can be «walked through» the election law, the administrative process, and get their questions answered on campaign financing. Similar packages can be prepared for the media, indicating in a more general manner what offices are open, the reporting dates (i.e. when they should come and analyze the information), who has filed to date, etc. By informing the media and making them active participants, the election commission increases public disclosure at a low cost.
10. Finally, there should be appropriate penalties for violations of the law. IFES finds generally that penalties in the Russian electoral legislation are the equivalent of giving the choice between life and death. Either the penalty is very light (small fine) or very heavy (ex: loose your office once elected or the candidate's name is struck off the ballot). Penalties which are commensurate to the nature of the violation and give a margin to the Commission based on lack of wrongful intention, for example, will make enforcement of the law easier and more palatable to all.
11. All these issues are not uncommon and, as mentioned at the beginning, have no immediate solutions. Let me read you the list of complaints which IFES received from an election office not too long ago regarding issues with campaign financing:
- Large number of candidates makes it difficult to keep up with the pace of reports being submitted.
- Insufficient funding results in insufficient staff to monitor and audit reports.
- Inadequate enforcement powers.
- Candidates do not fully understand the requirement of the law and therefore do not follow them. Cumbersome rules and regulations make interpretation difficult for the candidates.
- Poorly designed and difficult to understand forms that must be compiled with.
- Candidates sometimes have difficulty in separating personal expenses from campaign expenses.
- Honesty of candidates to properly report transactions.
12. Can anyone guess where this election commission is? Could it be here in Russia? Well, this comes from a local level election commission from the US. Every country faces challenges, and nobody has a single wrong or right answer. This is why IFES is here and available to share your experience with other areas of the world and to make the expertise available. This way, at least, one can learn from the experiences of others and integrate the elements to their own issues.
13. Please feel free to contact us at IFES at anytime. We are always ready to assist you in your endeavors and provide research or comparative informational materials. Thank you for your kind patience and all the best to you in the coming national election year. We look forward to working with all of you. Thank you.