Money is an unavoidable part of politics and elections. It is the means through which candidates and political parties can reach the electorate with their message. Without money, candidates and political parties would not be able to disseminate their message to the electorate – an important part of the political process. However, given the frequency by which politicians and political parties take advantage of their privileged access to large amounts of funds, the role of money in politics is often viewed as a negative aspect of the political process. Money can corrupt the democratic system. But political finance should not be viewed as such. Multi-party democracies rely on money to function. It is beneficial to the political process, and it allows candidates and political parties to compete on the political stage. The marriage of money and politics is a tradition that dates back to some of the earliest democracies.
When we talk about the insertion of money in politics, we are talking about political finance. Political finance is the income and expenditures that candidates and political parties use to run their campaigns and support regular political party operations. It differs from campaign finance in that it is much more encompassing. Whereas campaign finance only refers to income and expenditures of parties and candidates during elections, political finance addresses the use of money by political actors in non-election years or for non-campaign purposes.
The main objectives of the module are:
In this module we explore a broad range of issues surrounding political finance. At the most basic level this module will explore the importance and role of money in politics across the globe. To expand on these basic tenants, the module explores at the beginner to intermediate level the intricacies of political finance systems, stakeholders, the regulatory framework surrounding political finance, and political finance reform. Each activity and discussion aimed at ‘teaching’ a particular area of political finance, also strives to emphasize 7 key understandings about financing politics.
A key understanding underlying this module is that “money is necessary for democratic politics, and political parties must have access to funds to play their part in the political process. Regulation must not curb healthy competition.” A fair and effective system of political finance can contribute to the credibility of the electoral process – and perhaps, more importantly, a poorly devised and executed political finance system can lead to questions about the legitimacy of the electoral process and the electoral outcome itself. This module provides participants with the theoretical foundation and many of the practical skills needed to advocate for, devise, and implement more transparent systems of political party and campaign finance.
Over the course of the module, participants will gain a basic understanding of political finance concepts through a variety of capacity and knowledge building activities. They will be asked to consider some contentious debates in the area of political finance such as public funding, illegal and foreign funding, among others and develop arguments in favor or against relevant statements. Participants will also define and discuss basic concepts, among them disclosure, contributions, floors, ceilings, the cost of corruption etc., and guiding principles in political finance (transparency, equality of opportunity, accountability, and election integrity). Role play activities provide the opportunity to explore stakeholder roles and responsibilities, and also present ethical dilemmas of money in politics for discussion and debate. These activities, among others developed specifically for the module, are designed to familiarize them with the everyday practicalities and difficulties of working with all the various players involved in any system of political finance.
Participants examine a variety of alternatives to funding political parties and electoral campaigns including public funding and/or subsidies, individual contributions, membership dues, and donations from citizens abroad among others thereby encouraging participants to evaluate which methods are potentially sustainable in their own context. The subjects covered in this component of the module include: