The topic of ‘money in politics’ is not exclusively relevant to the United Kingdom. Internationally, the issues of concern for regulators around the world are broadly consistent, but priorities differ depending on the particular political, democratic and socio-democratic context of a country.
So when I attended the recent global conference on ‘money in politics’, it was interesting to see how highly regarded internationally the UK is in relation to the regulation of party and election finance. Of course, that doesn’t mean that there are things we can’t learn from the numerous other party finance regulators around the world, where there are a variety of interesting or alternative regulatory models that are used and that could be relevant for future changes in the UK.
Aims and purpose of the conference
The conference was organised by the International Institute for Electoral Democracy and Assistance (IDEA) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) alongside this year’s hosts, the Electoral Tribunal of the Federal Judiciary of Mexico and the National Electoral Institute of Mexico.
The focus of the conference was on four core areas:
- a fair and level playing field for political competition;
- increased financial accountability of political actors to citizens;
- the protection of democratic politics from money-based influence; and
- effective enforcement of political finance regulations.
I was delighted to be asked to be a presenter and panel member at the conference for a discussion entitled ‘How to work preventive with parties and candidates to increase compliance with the law?’. The colleagues that attended really engaged in the session, where I used the opportunity to discuss our day to day work, as well as what we do specifically in the run up to elections and referendums.
I explained that we always seek to be available to answer specific enquiries on the rules from parties and candidates during the particularly busy periods leading up to elections to support compliance with the rules. This includes running busy telephone advice lines and, where needed, issuing ‘advisory’ written advice where we are getting a number of similar queries. I explained that this helped maintain close contact with those we regulate and saved us (and them) time further down the line by making sure proactively that they know how to comply with the rules, rather than us simply waiting to investigate any breaches.
I then moved on to talk about our risk based enforcement approach and audit powers and how we use these when breaches do occur. This section was particularly interesting as it led to a number of questions about our party finance online system (PEF online), which parties use to report their financial information to us and their sources of funding, which we then proactively publish for scrutiny by the media and voters alike.
I know that some of those we regulate may occasionally raise concerns about the efficiency of the PEF online system, but it is worth noting that colleagues from regulators across the world saw this as an innovative and helpful model that they would ideally like to replicate themselves. It reiterated to me that whilst the system may not be perfect, it’s important to continue building on and improving it so that we can maintain our leading position in this area internationally.
This sort of conference is a good opportunity to learn from networking and establish ongoing relevant contacts. I spoke with delegates from Europe, the Americas, Asia and Africa and it was a fantastic reminder that whilst the context in their countries can sometimes be quite different to the UK (and accordingly their priorities in party and election finances may often not be the same as ours) there is often a consistency of issues even though there may be different approaches to the regulatory framework.
Keeping up to date with what is going on internationally and understanding what works in practice elsewhere and what innovations are being launched can only help us make sure that we are keeping our own system up to date. I am grateful to the conference organisers and hosts for providing us all with that opportunity.
Director of Party and Election Finance and Legal Counsel