Developing the questions
Following a review of the previous International IDEA database on political finance, an expert group provided advice on the development of a new set of questions and gave guidance on the project's direction. It was decided to extend the approach to include candidate finance regulations, since political actors can often get around political party finance regulations by channelling funds through their candidates. Other issues such as the abuse of state resources, gender and vote buying were also added.
The previous International IDEA database excluded "not free" countries according to the Freedom in the World Index. However, research has showed that political finance regulations are sometimes as common in these countries as in others, and we wanted to provide the opportunity to compare regulations in different types of countries. This is not to suggest that the same regulation will necessarily have the same intention or impact in all countries. The definition of a "country" was determined to include only United Nations Member States, and we decided to only exclude countries that fell into one or more of the below categories;
- Political parties are de jure not allowed to exist (legally banned)
- Political parties are de jure not allowed to register candidates in elections
- No elections have been held during the last 30 years
This left us with 180 countries. Despite the quantity, and in some cases the complexity, of questions, the response rate is high with substantive answers from all countries. For around 80 per cent of the countries there are less than five ND replies and only 7 per cent of the countries have 20 or more ND replies. It is unavoidable that recent changes in some countries - either specifically to do with political finance regulation or relating to the political system more generally - will quickly make the information in these countries out of date (see further below about keeping the database up to date).
Answering the questions
A series of researchers from different institutions around the world were provided with coding instructions and asked to answer each of the 43 questions. A collection of more than 1,000 laws, reports and other documents was collected and more were added as the project progressed.
All answers were controlled by the project core team to ensure that the coding was in line with the instructions (and so ensuring consistency in interpretations).
Verifying the answers
A large group of experts assisted by verifying the recorded answers and suggesting changes or additions. Though the coding for all countries could not be verified in this manner, this process significantly increased the reliability of the data. We hope that the users of the database will also assist by leaving feedback regarding any incorrect or missing information (see further below). As we cannot guarantee that there is no error in any of the 7,000 answers in the database, we apologize for any inaccuracies.
Provisions relating to the financing of parties are sometimes found in laws other than electoral or political party legislation. This can make it difficult to find all of the legal provisions regulating political finance. Some may be found in tax laws, special laws governing the operation of political parties, or laws related to the media, private companies, trade unions or other bodies. To complicate matters further, the provisions may be found in decrees, subsidiary legislation or regulations.
In the work with the database we asked researchers primarily to use legislation from each country. If relevant legislation could not be found, written sources such as election reports or political analyses were sought. For some regions, organizations focusing on campaign finance have provided much relevant information for a number of countries, such as the Group of States Against Corruption and the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa. Experts from various countries such as EMB officials, academics or independent observers also assisted researchers in finding relevant information. The sources used in the database can be found here.
Interpreting the absence of information
One problem with collecting and coding data of this kind is that if a certain provision does not exist in a country, it may be difficult to find information about this. For example, if a country does not use public funding of political parties, it is very unlikely that this is stated in legislation (it will be the result of an absence of rules regarding such funding). Deciding to automatically exclude cases where explicit information could not be found would have created a bias in the answers, as most countries where such provisions do not exist would be coded as "no information", and only countries where such provisions exist would be coded at all. There is, in other words, an asymmetry in how many provisions are included in legislation – if they exist there will be a direct reference whereas if they do not exist no mention of the issue will be included in the law.
The researchers were instructed to in such cases seek other sources that could provide information (such as election observation reports, analyses of the political party situation in a country or input from an expert). In cases where confirmation of the absence of a provision could not be found from other sources, a judgement was made regarding the likelihood that the issue could be governed in regulatory documents not accessible to the researcher. In case the researcher had access to the relevant electoral and political party legislation and did not find any references to other legislation or similar documents that may be pertinent, (s)he was instructed to answer "no" to questions regarding provisions not mentioned in any of these sources. For some questions where it is likely that provisions may exist in other legislation than that related to elections or political parties (such as Q11 and Q30): these cases are coded as "no data". We believe that this is the best approach to dealing with the issue of non-regulation.
How to interpret the answers in the database
In a database covering 180 countries and nearly 7,000 individual answers, it is impossible to capture all the nuances that may exist in the regulations in a given country. For example, there may be different rules for different types of candidates, or about political parties in different regions of the same country (the focus of the answers is on national level regulations).
The questions have in most cases been worded for example as "Is there a ban on..." or "Are there provisions for...". These questions have been answered "yes" if there are any cases of bans or provisions, even if these are only partial. For example, if there is a ban on corporate donations to Presidential but not to Parliamentary candidates, the question has been answered "yes", with details provided under "comments" (click on any answer to see these). The quotes provided for the answers will in many cases provide additional information about the regulatory situation in each country.
As mentioned in the introduction, the database deals exclusively with the regulations in each country. In many cases these regulations may not be enforced fully, or indeed at all.
Keeping the database up to date
With such a mass of data, a major challenge becomes how to keep track of legislative and other changes that will necessitate differences in how questions have been answered. International IDEA intends to conduct regular updates of the database, but in the meantime we welcome any suggestions for updates or corrections, or to add missing data. For each answer in the database, there is an opportunity for users to make such suggestions, and International IDEA will consider each carefully.
Bans and limits on private income
Questions 1-18 deal with regulations to limit who is allowed to contribute to political parties or candidates, or to limit the amounts that can be contributed. The purpose of these types of regulations is normally to stop undesirable actors from influencing the political sphere, and through limiting the size of donations to also reduce the influence that any actor can have on the political process.
Questions 1–11 deal with bans on donations from certain actors (sometimes known as qualitative contribution limits). Questions 1-2 deal with bans on foreign donations to political parties and candidates, whereas questions 3-4 concern bans on corporate donations and questions 5-6 donations from companies with partial government ownership or government contracts. Questions 7-8 cover donations from trade unions and 9-10 anonymous donations. Question 11 asks if there are bans against the giving or receipt of state resources to a particular political party or candidate, with question 12 covering all other types of contribution bans.
Questions 13-18 deal with quantitative limits to contributions, first regarding ongoing donations to political parties (such as annual limits), then limits to donations to political parties and candidates respectively in relation to election campaigns.
Questions 19-28 cover the provision of direct and indirect public funding to political parties and candidates. Advocates of public funding argue that such measures can counteract the negative influence of private money in politics, help to strengthen the capacity of political parties and level the electoral playing field. Critics argue that public funds may weaken the ties between parties and their supporters.
First, questions 19-22 ask whether direct public funding exists, and if so what the eligibility and allocation criteria are and whether there are provisions for how such funds should be used. Questions 23-26 deal with the provision of free or subsidised media access to political parties and candidates, and if any other forms of public funding is provided. Questions 27-28 ask if financial incentives are provided to increase gender equality among candidates and within political parties in general.
Regulations of spending
Questions 29-34 deal with the rules for how much and on what political parties and candidates can spend money. Such rules seek to curb certain types of undesirable spending and to decrease the advantage of those with access to significant resources, and also to reduce overall spending on election campaigns.
Questions 29-30 address bans on vote buying and the use of state resources in favour of a political party or candidate (as apart from giving such resources to a political party/candidate, which is covered by question 11). Questions 31-34 cover limits on the amounts that political parties and candidates may spend.
Reporting, oversight and sanctions
Questions 35-43 address the requirements for financial reporting, oversight of political finance regulations and the sanctions available against breaches. Without effective disclosure and monitoring, transparency cannot be achieved and it is unlikely that political actors will respect rules such as contribution bans and spending limits.
Questions 35-39 cover issues of financial reporting by political parties and candidates, as well as whether such reports must include information on individual donors and if they must be made public. Question 40-42 asks what institution(s) that has a mandate to receive financial reports, investigate potential breaches or other responsibilities in relation to political finance oversight. Finally, question 43 deals with the sanctions that are applicable for different types of violations of political finance regulations.
Questions 11 and 30 (about state resources) seem the same to me. Can you explain the difference?
Answer: Question 11 deals with resources being given to political parties or candidates from government sources (excluding regulated public funding (see questions 19-26) and sources that have a relation to the government (see questions 5 & 6)). Question 30 deal with resources being used directly or indirectly in favour of a political party or candidate. If for example it says in a law that political parties must not receive government/state resources, that relates to question 11. If on the other hand there is a general ban on using state resources in favor of a political party or candidate, or it says that government departments must not act in support of any political party or candidate or state owned vehicles must not be used during election campaigns, these passages relate to question 30.
If public funds are given to parliamentary caucuses or MP's salaries, have you interpreted that as direct or indirect public funding?
Answer: Most definitions (at least the more detailed ones) of direct public funding only include extra-parliamentary support. This means that funds given exclusively to support parliamentary party groups (travel allowances etc) as well as MPs salaries are not covered by this definition. If this is the only form of state/public funding available, we have entered "no" to Q19 about direc public funding.
However, we have included such information under Q26 about other types of indirect public funding.
If parties receive loans from the State, is that direct or in-direct public funding?
Answer: Loans provided to political parties (without interest or at favourable rate) from the State should be seen as indirect public funding. It has therefore been included in Q26, not Q19.