By Carol Sweetenham, ‘Party Finance Regulation Reloaded’ Project Manager
Party finance and registration is central to the Commission’s remit to ensure fairness and transparency in the political system. Making information available on party accounts, spending and donations is at the heart of having a fair and open democracy. Our Party and Election Finance Online system is where we record this information and make it available for public search. There are few systems like it elsewhere, and it is cited as an example of transparency.
However it is precisely because it was a pioneering system that we now need to replace it. Technology and expectations have both moved on over the last decade and we need to bring the system up to modern standards.
If the new system is to succeed it must be easy for people to both input and extract information.
Involving those who use the system will be key in achieving user friendly design, so we’re delighted that key users have agreed to be involved. With their input and constant dialogue with the developers we can tailor the system to users’ needs, testing it thoroughly at every stage.
Of course the system is there to ensure that the Commission and those who participate in elections act in accordance with the law. But we see this as an opportunity to make it easier for parties and other regulated groups to comply with the law, and to make processes more efficient for everyone involved, including those who use the system to find and analyse information. This feature is key in maintaining a high standard of transparency.
We were therefore very pleased to be invited to an expert roundtable in Lithuania about e-reporting in political finance – how public organisations publish information about election spending and donations online. The conference was an opportunity for election bodies from across Europe and the United States to share expertise.
Organised by the Organisation for Cooperation and Security in Europe (OSCE) and its Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, the event covered transparency during elections and the role of websites and databases for the public, journalists and academics to search freely.
There were attendees from Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Georgia, Norway, France, Spain, Serbia, the Ukraine, the United States and the UK, with the three Baltic nations leading the discussions around their relatively new online systems. A Vice Chair of the Federal Election Commission talked about the American approach to e-reporting and how it has developed since the 1970s.
Policy Manager for the Electoral Commission, Kate Engles, gave a presentation about how the UK Electoral Commission presents UK election spending and donations information. We have a detailed searchable database of party accounts, election and referendum spending and campaigner donations. This information has to be reported to us under electoral law, and we are required to make this information publicly available.
We consistently look for more engaging ways to present the information, such as interactive graphs that we publish on our website through a program called ‘tableau’, and infographics that we share via our Twitter account.
Have you taken a look at our current reporting database? You can search by party or campaigner name, electoral event or year to find information on donations and spending and elections and referendums.