ACA presents proposal for a more effective legislation on political parties
The Austrian Court of Audit (ACA) published its draft bill for a more effective legislation on political parties today.
"With this draft, we want to facilitate an informed discussion. Our proposal is based on the experiences made in the course of the ACA’s day-to-day oversight work as regards the assessment of the political parties’ statements of accounts," says ACA President Margit Kraker.
It is unusual for the ACA to present a draft bill. However, “this draft was prepared independently of party-political considerations and based on strictly factual and objective criteria. I hope that the ACA can make a contribution to enhancing transparency and oversight. There might also be better solutions. But we find that this proposal is the right incentive to strengthen democracy."
The ACA’s proposal to amend the Political Parties Act (Parteiengesetz) and the Support of Political Parties Act (Parteien-Förderungsgesetz) comprises, among others, the following critical points:
o The ACA is given genuine audit rights as regards the political parties. During the assessment of the statement of accounts, the ACA will carry out an audit of a political party if the ACA has doubts about the correctness and completeness of the information provided in the statement of accounts and the party fails to dispel such doubts through its statements. The report on this audit will be published together with the statement of accounts. The ACA alone decides whether it carries out such an audit. “Audits per request” are not provided for.
o The report on the election campaign expenses shall be submitted already after six months. After an EU or National Council election, the political parties shall submit to the ACA an advance report on the election campaign expenses (mandatory overview and breakdown of the financing of election campaign expenses) six months after the election. This should enable a quicker assessment of the election campaign expenses. For this part of the statement of accounts, which is brought forward, the ACA has the same aforementioned direct audit rights. If such a report is submitted deficiently, late or not at all, the draft proposal provides for sanctions of up to EUR 100,000.
o More far-reaching regulations with regard to information provided on advertisements. So far, political parties have had to report the income generated from advertisements, but only if such advertisements had been placed in media outlets that were owned by the party. The draft now stipulates that such income shall also be made public in the statement of accounts if the media owner is, for example, also an affiliated organization, an equity interest or a personal committee.
o "Affiliated organizations" always spark discussions. Donations made to affiliated organizations shall be indicated in the party’s statement of accounts. The ACA’s proposal contains an amended definition of the term "affiliated organization". It is no longer the statutes, which the organization can issue itself at any time, that are decisive. Rather, it is the "factual expression of support and party-political cooperation" that is taken into account.
o In the Support of Political Parties Act the ACA proposes a more detailed description of the funding purpose. The funds may only be used for staff-related and material expenses for current business operations, political work and participation in EU and National Council elections. A separate accounting entity shall also be introduced for the funds related to political party funding in order to be able to ascertain whether the funds have been used according to their intended purpose. In the case of any violations, a notification will be issued to the Independent Political Parties Transparency Panel.
o The parties shall be obliged to include a financial balance sheet in the statement of account. This is an itemized presentation of assets and liabilities. This balance sheet shall be published as part of the statement of accounts.
o Monetary fines imposed by the Independent Political Parties Transparency Panel must no longer be paid with funds obtained for political party support.
The ACA deliberately focused on issues related to its audit and oversight activities. Primarily political considerations such as upper limits for donations or the amount of the political party funding were not addressed.