Taxpayer funding of elections

To make it easier for people to vote on this idea, I've copied the clauses to be written into the constitution from the comment section below (but I'll continue to edit them as new comments are added):

1. Political parties and any individual standing for election may only receive donations from named individual British citizens resident in the UK. No individual donation may exceed £100 or the value of one day's work at the national average wage (whichever is the greater) in any one year.

2. Any political party which receives 3% or more of the vote in a regional or national election is entitled to be funded annually by the state to the same level as every other such party in proportion to their share of the vote. Parties receiving state funding must provide audited annual accounts and make evidence freely available that their expenditure has been reasonable and was solely related to the aims set out in their party's constitution. It is the responsibility of such parties to minimise their expenses wherever possible. No subsidy unspent in one year may be carried forward to the next.

3. Any private organisation may make a collective donation provided that each of its members (eg shareholders or union members) in respect of whom the donation is made has given their individual approval, that a list of their names is freely available and that the total amount given by an individual to a political party in any one year does not breach the limit set out in clause 1 above.

 

Original idea:

The state should fund the election campaigns of political parties that obtain 3% or more of the vote in a general election in proportion to their share of the vote.

The total of this funding should not exceed the total amount spent by all political parties in the previous election (adjusted for inflation).

Individual annual donations should be capped at £100 (adjusted for inflation) and should not be taken into account when calculating the overall cost of an election campaign for the purpose of state funding of a subsequent election.

Donations both direct and indirect from anyone other than a private individual (ie corporations, unions, family trusts, pressure groups etc) should be banned.

The same funding principle should apply to local, regional and European elections.

This idea builds on two earlier ideas:

  - Campaigns to be funded by "We the People" proposed by John from Jersey at:   https://constitutionuk.com/category/0?q=campa...eas#/post/82152

  - Public Funding of Political Parties proposed by degauntier at: https://constitutionuk.com/category/#/post/83458

edited on Apr 15, 2015 by Alastair Bruton

Daniel Gaunt Apr 5, 2015

Just to clarify, are we suggesting that a party can spend its share of the public funding, plus what it can raise from members/supporters capped at £100 per donor? 

How should we address political activities including campaigning between electoral cycles? 

If parties are going to be spending public funds, will there be restrictions on how it is used? Or on how parties organise themselves? 

How will we prevent independent or unaffiliated candidates from being disadvantaged? 

Alastair Bruton Apr 5, 2015

In answer to your first question, yes, a party would be allowed to spend whatever it could raise from supporters (capped at £100 each) in addition to its share of public funds.

What would you suggest we do about campaigning between elections? Perhaps a similar principle could be devised providing a base of public funds with the possibilities of raising money from supporters (but again, capped at £100 per person).

I'm not in favour of micromanaging how parties spend the money, but since it's public money that they'd be spending, I suggest that the constitution should require that recipient parties keep audited accounts open to the public.

Can you suggest anything that could be done to help independent candidates?

Daniel Gaunt Apr 6, 2015

Spending in the run-up to a general election (including European elections): I think I'd link the permitted additional (non-taxpayer) spending to the number of members/registered supporters, rather than donors. That would largely make it pointless for parties to build up massive cash reserves between elections, and incentivise membership development. Say a limit on spending to taxpayer funding plus £50 per member plus £10 per registered supporter.

Spending outside general election years: This is less easy to address, as campaigning doesn't stop between elections - there are elections 3 in every 4 years in many local authorities as well as byelections, and the parties are not going to stop chasing polls either. Furthermore, staff need to be paid as do overheads, and members need to be kept up-to-date. Therefore, I'd suggest different limits for different categories of spending, 

Donations: The aim, surely, is to limit the very large donations and encourage membership and subscription? Therefore I suggest that the amount any individual is allowed to donate is based on a formula which allows slightly higher levels of donation for members than non-members (so for example, the maximum donation for a non member might be £50, whereas for a member it might be £50 x 1.5 'membership multiplier' + membership subscription, with the latter capped for all parties at £5 per month (£60pa) rising annually with inflation).

John Z Apr 6, 2015

I am all for a cap, so the Constitution shall give Parliament the power to enact the actual cap amount (not the Constitution itself), as the amount of the cap will change with inflation.  

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Hugh Ryan Apr 5, 2015

You'll forgive me if I raise a sceptical eyebrow at unions "... exist only as the collective will of their members ..." 

Union executives are often off on their own path and rely on member apathy - or browbeating - to remain in control of union activities.

Daniel Gaunt Apr 5, 2015

On a separate point re Trade Unions (can't remember which thread it was discussed on in phase 1). 

It's not reasonable to conflate Trade Unions with corporations and other such things. Despite the slurs thrown at them, they exist only as the collective will of their members, and their political activities reflect that. The affiliated unions that 'give' money to the Labour Party are different to other donors - they and their members are actually part of the party, and were responsible for its formation. The money that goes to the party isn't and never has been donations, despite being defined as such in electoral law, but rather pooled subscription money. 

There's also a certain internal inconsistency in seeking to force parties to become mass membership organisations in order to have the money needed to operate, while simultaneously advocating the removal of one of the routes to this (membership of the Labour Party affiliated Unions massively exceeds the total membership of all UK political parties). 

Daniel Gaunt Apr 5, 2015

My experience as a union member (in a non-affiliated union) doesn't entirely reflect that. Yes there is a significant degree of apathy, but at the same time the policy making process and election of officials is far more democratic than will be seen in any party currently, with the exception of the Greens. 

Alastair Bruton Apr 5, 2015

Is there any reason why union members couldn't be asked each year to approve the donation of part of their dues when they renew their membership or else on-line?

Daniel Gaunt Apr 6, 2015

My experience is that Union members don't normally renew annually - generally, you just pay monthly for as long as you're a member. All unions have to have a regular vote on whether to retain or get rid of their political fund, and for the affiliated unions that means the money given to the Labour Party on members' behalf.

Daniel Gaunt Apr 6, 2015

Rather than banning union donations, maybe we should explicitly permit donations from third party organisations, provided that the permissible donation is on a strictly per-capita basis, with all members opting in on a regular basis, and with a stringent cap on the per capita donation. This would continue to allow Unions to support Labour, industrial societies to support the Tories, Liberal/Conservative/Labour clubs to support the respective party, etc. Would also need some type of restrictions on membership eligibility as well to avoid parties making all members into (say) members of the 'Conservative Association' to allow everyone to increase their contribution level!

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Nicholas Charalambides Apr 9, 2015

Just to summarise discussion so far - we all seem to be in favour of capping the amount that can be donated to parties by individuals, but seem less so certain on corporate/union etc donations.

Could I ask people's opinions on having a simple cap per third party interest (be it a union or corporation) such as we would ascribe to individuals, but just set the cap higher than £100.

On spending the funding they receive, I would propose that we should be able to enforce that the majority of funds a party receives in a given period (be it a calender or tax year) has to be spent to avoid the hoarding issue that was raised.

The remaining issue to discuss I believe would be the public funding of parties, involving which parties get what amount, and whether this differs in election years.

I look forward to hearing your views!

John Z Apr 9, 2015

My preference is that contributions be limited to people.  And even if there is a cap, that actual amount of the cap would be legislated (it wouldn't be in the Constitution).

As for public funding of political parties, I would be against that.  However, Degauntier made a proposal that there be public funding for small new parties for a period of 10 years to give them the chance to develop;  I would be inclined to support that.

 

Mark Cooke Apr 12, 2015

I'm finding it difficult to understand what is actually being proposed here, and in particular what it is suggested should be embedded in a constitution.

There seem to be two different issues being conflated:

1) A need to limit the influence wealthy people and organisations have,  through limits on political spending.   The details of this will clearly need to be in a statute,   but it should be easy to draft a constitutional rule requiring Parliament to make such rules.  

2) A (more contentious) need for the state to contribute to political spending to enable effective campaigning by parties while their fundraising from donors is controlled by 1).

 

As Treasurer of a small political think tank,  could I offer the comment that very complex rules in this area are a significant barrier to participation by people and organisations outside the established parties - we simply don't have the capacity for compliance, and avoid activities which might bring us under the rules - lots of charities are in this position at the moment.

 

 

 

The two are linked because the tighter you draw 1 the more the need is for 2.

 

Alastair Bruton Apr 14, 2015

Taking into account the comments made above, could I suggest that the following clauses be written into the constitution (bearing in mind that the detailed implementation of these principles might best be left to Parliamentary legislation):

1. Political parties and any individual standing for election may only receive donations from named individual British citizens resident in the UK. No individual donation may exceed £100 or the value of one day's work at the national average wage (whichever is the greater) in any one year.

2. Any political party which receives 3% or more in a regional or national election is entitled to be funded annually by the state to the same level as every other such party in proportion to their share of the vote. Parties receiving state funding must provide audited annual accounts and make evidence freely available that their expenditure has been reasonable and was solely related to the aims set out in their party's constitution. It is the responsibility of such parties to minimise their expenses wherever possible. No subsidy unspent in one year may be carried forward to the next.

3. Any private organisation may make a collective donation provided that each of its members (eg shareholders or union members) in respect of whom the donation is made has given their individual approval, that a list of their names is freely available and that their donation does not breach the limit set out in clause 1 above.

Nicholas Charalambides Apr 14, 2015

That all seems a good base to work from - thank you Alastair!

To clarify, I assume you meant to add 'of the vote' after '3% or more' in the first line of your second point?

Also, will we be prohibiting people from donating once, individually, and then again as a collective unit - i.e. will each person, regardless how they do it, not be able to donate more than £100.

Overall, the points are great, and don't worry too much about setting it all out in formalised language, just more about the substance of the points themselves!

Daniel Gaunt Apr 16, 2015

Point 3 would be an unreasonable restriction on being a member of a Trade Union. At present, there is no requirement to notify your/any employer that you are a member, and despite the law there are plenty of employers who do discriminate against Union members (see, for example, the construction industry blacklist). To make names freely available would therefore put all such Union members at risk. 

For point 2, I'd query 'minimise wherever possible' - this would seem to be an unreasonable restriction on what parties can do. For example, one way in which parties reduce their expenditure is to run smaller and fewer campaigns. The logical outcome of this requirement therefore is that the money provided could only be used for the minimum level of administrative support needed to keep the party ticking over. 

 

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John Robertson Apr 14, 2015

I'm jumping into a thread late here, but is there a way of getting political parties to take resources in kind, publicly, shared? Such as civil service advice mentioned at the top of this thread or shared mailouts mentioned at the top of another.

Maybe the parties should prove that they cannot share resources in kind before getting cash from the taxpayer? Or that there is a reversed economy of scale if people work cheaply at home? This would sharpen the debate about who pays for the daft poster campaigns and allow activists from rival parties to challenge waste.

Parties shall only be funded for services not practical to accept in kind and not practical to share with other parties 

...might be a good phrase. So the House of Commons Library could provide a briefing on the economy, training on use of the treasury computer, and sessions with Treasury officials, rather than each party commissioning its own economists. Or parliament might debate how to organise focus groups for all parties cheaply, rather than each party paying agencies to hold the groups separately. There is already a free mailout for each candidate's election address which they aren't willing or able to use to send a manifesto, so I don't think they need any more money for publicity until they use that properly.;

  • 1 vote against so far by someone who wants taxpayers to pay a cheque to political parties, no strings attached. If they'd like to give their name I'll ask: Why? I've just spent a while trying to find an NHS dentist without success and think maybe that budget should take priority.
  • http://employees.org.uk/startyourownunion.html#running-a-vote is a paragraph about how the likes of internal party elections can be done for free, without need of funding
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Short_Money_%28Parliament,_U.K.%29 is a list of how parties have already been granted very large amounts of taxpayers' money, on top of payments to MPs and the free postage for an electoral address, but they still find themselves unable to deliver a manifesto through my letterbox - so although it is sad my post may have discouraged debate I don't see any great loss to a new constutution if we say nothing about funding political parties.

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