What must be done now: five points to ensure that genuine control is exercised over the funding of political parties and election campaign expenses
“These days put the country to the test. If the funding of political parties and the control of such funding does not undergo an in-depth reform now, we will never see it happen. If we are to restore public confidence, the notion of complete party-related transparency must be finally put into practice. Therefore it is high time for Parliament to close the obvious control gaps and eventually issue strong and effective regulations. Furthermore, taking into account the amount of public funds provided for political parties, they can reasonably be expected to use the available funds more economically,” says Margit Kraker, President of the Austrian Court of Audit (ACA).
This requires the following five reform measures:
1. Full audit rights for the ACA. Political parties are an important element of democracy. Consequently, the ACA recognizes the need for an adequate and public funding of political parties, but it must come with clear, comprehensible and fair rules. The regulations under the Political Parties Act (Parteiengesetz) need to be reformed since they assign to the ACA only tasks that do not comprise genuine rights of control. The ACA therefore calls for real rights to audit the funding of political parties.
2. Requirements for associations and committees. The legal framework must not provide for any possibilities to disguise contributions to political parties. This concerns in particular associations, committees and affiliated organizations. The ACA therefore suggests, among others, an amendment of the Federal Act on Associations (Vereinsgesetz). Associations that decide to donate to parties or to provide in-kind support, have to report such contributions directly to the ACA. The report must clearly show where the financial means of the association come from and disclose donors and sponsors. The report is published by the ACA. Associations that decide to make a contribution to a political party must, in turn, not accept donations that are inadmissible according to the Political Parties Act. In case of any violations, the law shall provide for sanctions against the representative bodies of the association.
3. Individual report on election campaign expenses and election campaign financing. Three months after the election day at the latest, each political party and/or each party that participated in the election shall submit to the ACA a report on the election campaign expenses and election campaign financing, which will then be examined by the ACA.
4. Sanctions by the ACA. Misconduct needs to be met with effective sanctions. A law that does not exclude its circumvention and does not effectively prevent that cost limits are exceeded is toothless. The ACA needs to be granted the right to impose penalties in the case of non-compliance with the Political Parties Act. The level of the penalty must have a general preventative effect. If differences of opinion arise between the ACA and the affected political party with regard to the reason for or the level of the penalty, the matter shall be decided by the Constitutional Court of Austria.
5. Political party funding via the Parliament. The execution of political party funding is to be assigned to the Parliament, which shall prepare in-depth regulations for the appropriate use of political party funds (e.g. for the social media activities of the parties).