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Information about Elections, Political Parties and Candidates

Access to election-related information is widely considered to be essential to the integrity of electoral processes in the democratic world. A comprehensive survey of relevant laws and regulations, carried out in 2003 by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), found that, out of the 111 established and emerging democracies surveyed, sixty countries required political parties and/or their donors to disclose campaign contributions and other sources of income. These included, at the time, at least twenty-seven member states of the Council of Europe (not all members were included in the study). Fifty-three of the surveyed countries required disclosure of political party expenditure. With a few exceptions, the information disclosed by the parties, usually to a specialized government agency, can be freely accessed by the general public.[1] In some of these countries, the RTI law can be used to access this information; in other countries, election laws regulate these issues.

 

Disclosure of party finances, including campaign spending and contributions, serves the important goals of protecting the integrity of the electoral process and enabling voters to make informed choices on election day on the basis of the broadest possible information, including as to the parties and candidates’ sources of funding. To further these goals and promote good practices in this area, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe adopted in 2003 a Recommendation on Common Rules Against Corruption in the Funding of Political Parties and Electoral Campaigns. According to the Recommendation, political parties should be required regularly to make public their accounts, or a summary thereof, including records of received donations and all campaign expenditures.[2]

 

The European Union (EU) has adopted similar disclosure conditionality for EU political parties seeking EU funding. Under Article 6 of EU Regulation 2004/2003, an applicant party must, among other conditions:

a.       publish its revenue and expenditure and a statement of its assets and liabilities annually;

b.      declare its sources of funding by providing a list specifying the donors and the donations received from each donor, with the exception of donations not exceeding EUR 500….[3]

 

Courts in a number of countries have granted citizens access to information about political party finances and other election-related information, sometimes in the absence of any explicit statutory scheme. Courts have ordered disclosure of information about campaign contributions (Canada); bank account information of a political party, where there was unequivocal evidence that it had misused private funds (Costa Rica); the background of candidates, including their assets and any pending criminal investigations (India); the management and use of any public funds (Indonesia); the salary and other income of political party leaders (Mexico); and the terms of an agreement made by parties to form a coalition government (Israel). These cases are described at greater length below. We welcome receipt of copies of, or links to, the court judgments, or further information about the facts of these cases.

Argentina

Political parties are not covered by the presidential decree 1172/03, the only regulation regarding FOI at the national level currently in place. But they are covered by the Bill that is pending in Congress.

Political parties are regulated by a series of laws that, together, structure the Argentinean electoral system. These laws are:

-       The Código Nacional Electoral (National Electoral Code)

-       The Organic Law of Political Parties (Ley Orgánica de Partidos Políticos, 23.298)

-       The Law on Financing of Political Parties (Ley de Financiamiento de los Partidos Políticos, 26.215)

-       The Law on Democratization of Political Representation, Transparency and Electoral Fairness (Ley de Democratización de la Representación Política, Transparencia y Equidad Electoral, 26.571)

These laws do include several provisions by which political parties are obliged to provide certain information to the State, but not to publish it pro-actively by themselves in their web-sites.

Regarding contributions, political parties are obliged to present two reports. One of them is presented 10 days prior to the election, and must inform the details on the “public and privat funds received, indicating origin and amount, as well as how much was spent in the electoral campaign, with a detail of income and expenditures” (see article 54, Law 26.215).

The other one, named the Final Report, is presented 90 days after the election took place. This report must be a little bit more detailed, and it has to include the nature, origin, name and national ID number of donors, amount and destination of expenditures as well as documentation that backed them up  (see article 58, Law 26.215).

These reports are then made available by the National Electoral Judicial Office (a branch of the Jurdiciary), and are publicly available to citizens through FOI tools and in the webpage of the Judiciary Branch of government. Poder Ciudadano the (Argentine Chapter of Transparency International) created a webpage where citizens can easily access those reports.

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Bulgaria

Political parties that receive state subsidies according to the Bulgarian Political Parties Act (PPA, Art. 21), are obliged bodies under Article 3 (2) (2) of the Access to Public Information Act (APIA).

The Political Parties Act requires parties to keep a public register of the names of donors, the amount  donated, and the purpose of donations, annual financial statements, and financial statements of election campaigns (Article 29). The register is published on the website of the party.

Article 34 of the same act obliges political parties to submit annual financial statements to the National Audit office. The Audit office conducts an audit of the financial activity of the political party, and publishes the results of the audit in its official bulletin and website.

There are specific publicity requirements in regard to funding of election campaigns. Article 158 of the Electoral Code requires the National Audit office to keep a public register of the political parties and coalitions taking part in the election, list of donations (name of donors, amount, purpose), origin of the funds, list of natural persons providing pro bono services for the party and type of the services provided (Article 158 (1)). Income and expenditure statements of the election campaign are submitted to the National Audit office within 30 days after the election (Article 159 (1)).

The total sum provided as subsidies to political parties and coalitions is determined on an annual basis and reflected in the State Budget Act of the Republic of Bulgaria. Thus, such information is easily accessible.

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Canada

A provincial court in Ontario ruled that an investigative reporter was entitled to have access to an electronic database of campaign contribution records related to a Toronto municipal election. The Ontario Court held that the public interest served by disclosure of the data – namely, facilitating public scrutiny of the democratic election process – was so important that it “clearly outweigh[ed]” any competing interests.[4]

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Costa Rica

The Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Costa Rica upheld the right of access to bank account information concerning a political party in a 2003 decision.[5] The Board of Directors of the Bank of Costa Rica had denied the request for information presented by Representative José Humberto Arce Salas regarding irregularities in the private financing of political parties, on the grounds that such information was protected by bank secrecy and the right to privacy.  The Court reasoned that “in case there is unequivocal evidence that a political party has transferred part of its private funds to a privately-owned company … the information would cease to be of a private nature … and become of public interest."[6]

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Croatia

In Croatia political parties are not covered by the access to informaiton law.

According to the law on financing of political activities, political parties are legally obliged to pro-actively publish on their internet site yearly financial reports. Citizens can access information about financial contributions from governments to political parties, but they cannot access reports submitted to the government on the spending of public funds.

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India

The Supreme Court, in 1996, held that the Election Commission was authorized to collect information from political parties and their candidates on their electoral spending.[7] In 2002, the Court ruled that voters are entitled to receive detailed information about the background of candidates for election, including their assets and any pending criminal investigations. The Court directed the Election Commission to collect such information from all candidates running for national and state legislatures, and to make the information public in advance of elections.[8]

Although political parties are not directly covered by the FOI law,they are obliged to publish campaign expenses under election laws. These Statements of Election Expenditure are rather detailed and also include information on donations.

Candidates contesting elections to parliament and state legislatures are required to declare their assets and liabilities as well as similar details for their spouses and three dependents. These details are accessible to voters through the Election Commission's website. Candidates must also declare their criminal antecedents on the affidavit prior to filing nomination papers.

Information about financial contributions from governments to political parties is not proactively disclosed in India. However this information is available on request. Political parties are required to submit a list of donors who have given more than INR 20,000 to the party. Both individual and corporate donations must be disclosed.

Information about salaries paid to party workers is not accessible under any law. Salaries paid to Ministers by Government are public information and can be accessed under the RTI Act.

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Indonesia

The ATI law is unusual in that it obliges political parties themselves to make available certain information, namely:

a.         the principle and the objectives;

b.         the general program and activities of the political party;

c.         the name, address and composition of the management and the alterations thereto;

d.         the management and use of funds that originate from the state budget and/or the regional budget;

e.         the decision taking mechanism of the party;

f.          the decision of the party; the result of the conference/congress/national

meeting and other decisions that, according to the articles of association

and the party's by-laws are open to the public; and/or

g.         other information provided by the Law pertaining to a political party.[9]

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Israel

The Supreme Court ordered political factions to make public the agreements they made concerning the establishment of a coalition government, on the ground that failure to do so “can water down the ability of the public to participate in political life.”[10]

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Latvia

Political parties are not covered by the Freedom of Information Law. However, some information is released based on Article 5 of the Law on Official Secrets that prohibits restrictions to access to information regarding corruption. Information on donations to political parties is regularly released on the website of the national anti-corruption institution. Annual declarations of political parties are public and available online on the website of the national anti-corruption institution, containing incomes/expenditure (also expenditure on advertisement prior to elections). Media on the other hand is required to release information on amounts of advertising time/space sold to particular political parties as well as the price, on the website of National AVM regulator.

The Law on Political Parties (Art 27 (6)) provides that the list of names and surnames of members of a political party is public [as opposed to restricted access] information accessible to everyone. Information on member fees starting from a certain amount (200 LVL, that is, 300 EUR, in 2011) is publicly available. Pursuant to Article 3(3) of the Law on Financing of Political Organisations (Parties) (Article 3(2) in the English version), information on all donations, all expenditure on advertisment prior to election and annual accounts of political parties, is also publicly available.

Starting in 2014, the year of the new elections, political parties will be recipients of public funds based on their results in previous elections.

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Macedonia

Political parties are not covered by the definition of information holders given in the FOI Law (Article 3). But, after FOSIM’s appeal for denied request for free access to information from political parties, the National FOI Commission included them in its bylaw, in the list of the information holders, in terms of their financing. (Requests were sent to the 16 political parties for access to information about their financing. For example, on September 19th, 2007 the ruling party VMRO-DPMNE was requested to disclose a full review of political party financing (financial-material operation) for the period of January to December 2006 (in accordance with Article 4 and Article 2 of the Law on financing political parties). The request was mute refused. It was appealed to the National FOI Commission, which accepted the appeal and asked the political party to submit the requested information.)

The Law on Financing of Political Parties stipulates that political parties are obliged to pro-actively publish information on financing. According to Article 27 (a): “The political party shall be obliged to publicly announce the annual financial statement on their website and in at least one of the daily newspapers.
The political party shall be obliged to publish its annual financial statement in the "Official Gazette of the Republic of Macedonia". Article 4 stipulates that the sources of financing of political parties, as well as their expenditures, are public and transparent and subject to control by competent state bodies.

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Mexico

The Electoral Tribunal ruled that the public has a right to know the salaries and other income of the national leadership of Mexico’s registered parties. The Court reasoned that

[a]ll Mexican citizens enjoy, in the exercise of their political-electoral rights, a prerogative of receiving information about certain basic aspects of political parties … in order that they can decide whether to vote for [the parties] or not, whether to join them or not, insofar as such decisions form part of the citizen’s freedom to choose, which could not be fully exercised if access to such information were denied….[11]

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Nepal

Political parties are considered public bodies under section 2(a) 5 of the Right to Information Act, 2007. As such, they are obliged to publish certain information regularly (Article 5(3)). Since Political Parties are public bodies, they have to fulfill the requirement of section 5(3) and publish certain information, including “updated description of income and expenditures, financial transactions” proactively.

The Political Parties Act, 2002 stipulates that political parties have to submit a financial (audit) report to Election Commission.

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Romania

Political parties are quasi-public bodies in Romania. Political parties are legally obliged to pro-actively publish information regarding election campaign finance (including private donations/income and expenditures) and regarding party funding (public funds allotted proportionally to political representation as well as occasional/regular lodging for  party headquarters and/or place of business). Citizens can access information about financial contributions from governments to political parties. There is only partial access to the reports submitted by political parties to the government on the spending of public funds.

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Russian Federation

The Russian FOI Act covers only government and local self-government bodies, and their subordinate entities. Political parties are public associations not subordinate to governmental bodies, so they are also not subject to the Act.

However, there is a legal act approved in USSR and still applied in Russia: the Decree of the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Council of 1983 "On Procedure of Issuing and Certifying Copies of Documents Addressing Citizens’ Rights by Enterprises, Institutions, and Organizations”. According to this Decree, any organization (including a political party) must provide a citizen with a copy of the document issued by the organization if the copy is needed to solve a problem concerning rights and legal interests of the requestor. Therefore, this Decree allows citizens to request documents from political parties that have an impact on their rights.

The Russian Federal Law “On Political Parties” stipulates practically no obligations for a political party to inform the public of its activities. It only obliges to publish information on a constituent congress (founding a new party) and of the program of the party in mass media.

According to the Russian Federal Law “On Information, Information Technologies, and Information Protection” (Article 8, Part 4, Paragraph 3) access to information on budget implementation cannot be limited. Thus, if a party is funded from the state budget, a citizen has the right to get information on its budget funding. Budget spending information cannot be disclosed according to the Law "On Information, Technologies and Information Protection", Article 8, paragraph 4, item 3. This can serve as a legal basis for requesting information on spending budget funds by political parties, since the parties are not government bodies and therefore are not subject to the Russian FOI Law.

Reports from political parties to governments on spending of public funds are covered by the Russian FOI Act since it provides citizens with access to information created by government bodies or received by them. If a party submit its reports on budget funding expenditures to a government body, a citizen can request the information referring to the Act.

Citizens cannot access information about salaries paid by a political party to its member who is a minister or a parliamentarian since this is a minister’s or a parliamentarian’s personal data. But if he/she gets salary from the state budget, a citizen may request and get information on such a salary amount according to the Russian Federal Law “On Information, Information Technologies, and Information Protection” (Article 8, Part 4, Paragraph 3).

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Serbia

Political parties are not covered by the Law on Free Access to Information of Public Importance. However, all reports they are obliged to submit to the relevant state bodies are made public upon submission.

Thanks to the new Law on Financing Political Activities, progress has been achieved as regards to transparency by making reporting of political much more precise with the new reporting template they are obliged to adhere to. Pursuant to the solutions stipulated by the Law, a large portion of party financing is now subjected to the control of the Agency for the Fight against Corruption.

The Law on Financing Political Activities requires the public disclosure of donations, the value of which exceeds the amount of one average salary in Serbia that year; annual financial reporting of a political party and reporting on costs of election campaigns. The dilemma of the former law (Law on Financing of Political Parties) about who is obliged to issue these reports has thus been solved. Moreover, the new Law also stipulates the obligation to issue public audited reports as an integral part of political parties’ reports, about donations and property. It also allows for membership payments and donations exceeding 1000 dinars (10 euros) to be paid exclusively through bank accounts to enhance transparency and to narrow the space for systemic corruption.

On another note, the total sum of salaries paid by political party can be found in political parties’ balance sheets, but not the information on salaries of particular party officials. Information on salaries of public officials paid form state/provincial/local budgets, public institutions or utility companies are public.

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Spain

There is no access to information law in Spain and the article that rules access to some administrative information does not affect information held by political parties. Political parties are not legally obliged to pro-actively publish any information.

Under Law 8/2007 on Funding of Political Parties, political parties have to elaborate an annual report with their accounts that has to be submitted to the Court of Accounts before the 30th of June of the following year (Article 14). This institution is currently not affected by the Spanish access to information regulation and will not be included in the future law if the current draft is passed.

The annual report is revised by the Court of Accounts which in six months has to evaluate it. The court drafts a report indicating the level of compliance with national ruling. If everything is in order this report is approved by the parliament and published in the Official Gazette (Article 16).

There is no obligation to publish the actual annual report of accounts of the political parties.

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Uganda

Political parties are not covered by the Access to Information Act, 2005. The law applies to information and all records of Government ministries, departments, local governments, statutory corporations and bodies, commissions and other government organs and agencies. The law regulating activities of political parties, The Political Parties and Organizations Act, 2005, in section 9 (5), allows members of the public to inspect declarations of assets and liabilities presented to the Electoral Commission by political parties upon payment of a fee. The law obliges political parties to make declarations to the Electoral Commission, and not to the public.

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[1] IDEA, Funding of Political Parties and Election Campaigns (2003), pp. 182, 189-191. IDEA is an intergovernmental organization with member states from all continents, and a mandate to support sustainable democracy worldwide. The cited Handbook is available at: http://www.idea.int/publications/funding_parties/index.cfm.

[2] Recommendation (2003) 4, adopted on April 8, 2003, arts. 10-13.

[3] Regulation (EC) No. 2004/2003 on the Regulations Governing Political Parties At European Level and the Rules Regarding their Funding, adopted by the European Parliament and the Council on November 4, 2003.

[4] Phinjo Gombu v. Tom Mitchinson, Assistant Commissioner et al. (2002), 59 O.R. (3d) 773.

[5] Appeal for constitutional protection presented by the Representative José Humberto Arce Salas against the Bank of Costa Rica.  File: 02-009167-0007-CO, Res. 2003-03489, decided May 2, 2003.

[6] Annual Report of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression 2003, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Chapter IV - Report on Access to Information in the Hemisphere, para. 108, at http://www.cidh.oas.org/relatoria/showarticle.asp?artID=229&lID=1.

[7] Common Cause v. Union of India, (1996) 2 SCC 752.

[8] Union of India (UOI) v. Respondent: Association for Democratic Reforms and Another; with People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) and Another v. Union of India (UOI) and Another, AIR 2002 SC 2112, (2002) 3 MLJ 55(SC), RLW 2002 (4) SC487, (2002)5 SCC 294, [2002]3 SCR696, decided 2 May 2002.

[9] Law on Transparency of Public Information, Art. 15.

[10] Shalit v. Peres, 44(3) P.D. 353, H.C. 1601-4/90 [1990],at 215.

[11] Zarate v. Federal Electoral Institute, Case SUP-JDC-041/2004, Judgment of September 10, 2004, p. 69.