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In some democracies, amount a party or candidate can spend towards election campaign is not regulated or poorly regulated. In which countries election spending or contributions are strictly regulated and are there any observable improvements/differences?

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  • I don't think limits on the amount a candidate can spend would solve anything - you would just end up with a candidate who has more money than he can spend, some of it still from some big rich donors. Pretty sure no country would has the regulations you're talking about because of this. Mar 4, 2017 at 19:04
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    @DavidGrinberg I did not get your argument. If there is no limit, candidates backed by rich can buy media resources and flood the audience with his campaign drowning out the opposition. Putting a limit ensures poor candidates can think of competing and hence participate more.
    – akm
    Mar 4, 2017 at 19:13
  • If you have a limit on campaign spending it may 'level the playing field' (highly debatable), but you will still have the problem of some candiates having a big warchest filled with money from big spenders that they can spend on other stuff not directly related to their campaign. This is why the argument is usually for regulations on campaign contributions, not campaign spending. Mar 4, 2017 at 19:17
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    i understand there can be unrecorded spending, but then there can be unrecorded contribution as well. also, it is unlikely that a policy/rule/law will totally cure the problem, it is made to improve the situation. that is what i am looking for.
    – akm
    Mar 4, 2017 at 19:27
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    @DavidGrinberg It can be seen the other way around, if there is a limit in campaign spending then politicians are less involved in campaign fundraising (for an example of how it works in the USA youtube.com/watch?v=Ylomy1Aw9Hk). And (outside someone wishing to pocket the money) why would a politician want to have a big war chest if he is not able to use it for campaign?
    – SJuan76
    Mar 4, 2017 at 22:58

2 Answers 2

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Some general information can be found on Wikipedia and it is clear that elections financing affects the elections:

Correct handling of political finance impacts a country's ability to effectively maintain free and fair elections, effective governance, democratic government and regulation of corruption.

Also, a study made by Magnus Öhman and Hani Zainulbhai came to these conclusions:

  • 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.
  • Money is never an unproblematic part of the political system, and regulation is desirable.
  • The context and political culture must be taken into account when devising strategies for controlling money in politics.
  • Effective regulation and disclosure can help to control adverse effects of the role of money in politics, but only if well conceived and implemented.
  • Effective oversight depends on activities in interaction by several stakeholders (such as regulators, civil society and the media) and based on transparency.

No explicit mention of amount limitations, but it can be deducted from the emphasized text.

According to the same Wikipedia article, electoral campaigns are partially sported by the State:

In some electoral systems, candidates who win an election or secure a minimum number of ballots are allowed to apply for a rebate to the government. The candidate submits an audited report of the campaign expenses and the government issues a rebate to the candidate, subject to some caps such as the number of votes cast for the candidate or a blanket cap

Of course, any rebate is regulated.

Actual example: Romania has quite strict laws when it comes to political parties and electoral campaign financing, as specified here.

  • strict recording of all donations

[...] ways of recording and format, bookkeeping and publicity of donations, contributions, loans and revenues and expenditures of political parties ­ according to the law, all sources of income of political parties are registered and highlighted in the accounting records of political parties.

  • no cash for large amounts

money donations whose value exceed 10 gross wages will be made only through bank accounts, and this limit is an annual one

and many other regulations on how the money can be spent

Also, according to this article:

the candidates can no longer use propaganda materials such as branded pens, hats, mugs, and buckets, which they used to hand over to potential voters, especially in the rural areas.

For last general elections (December 2016), a candidate for a seat in the Parliament could spent a maximum of 24000 Euros (source, Romanian)

However, some speculate that many campaign related activities were indirectly financed.

Noticeable effects in Romania

These are personally observed effects. I could not find any reliable source to argue about this subject, but I have followed the whole campaign and the outcome.

  • much less electoral banners, as they are quite expensive
  • less TV electoral shows
  • next to nothing electoral concerts
  • much more online publicity though social media accounts, ads etc. which are more cost effective than traditional
  • a slight decrease in vote turnout (some 2% difference from 2012 general elections)
  • no actual change in the outcome (the same parties in power)

So, shortly put: less noise, quite the same results. While regulating the financing of the election has some benefits, I think there are many other factors that influence the outcome of the elections.

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  • how much was the difference in net worth of elected candidates after and before the regulation?
    – akm
    Mar 4, 2017 at 20:03
  • "the same parties in power". are elected candidates of parties in power more or less same as before?
    – akm
    Mar 4, 2017 at 20:08
  • The latest regulation put the threshold to a value that is about a half of the one above (the one used for European Parliament elections). I cannot find/rembember when the first regulation was introduced.
    – Alexei
    Mar 4, 2017 at 20:11
  • Many of the candidates are still in power. Only a few which are investigated for corruption were removed from the party list (one voter indicates a list of candidates proposed by a party / an independent candidate). Also, no independent candidate managed to enter the Parliament.
    – Alexei
    Mar 4, 2017 at 20:13
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Many major democracies have strict limits on both spending and donations

The USA is extraordinary in having few practical limits on campaign spending or political advertising. Previous attempts to limit spending were basically voided by the Citizens United case in 2010 which effectively enabled unlimited spending by some groups.

The 2020 campaign alone is estimated to have cost about $15 billion of which around $5b was spent on the presidential race.

The USA is also very unusual in having few restrictions on how that money is spent with much going on TV or internet advertising).

Most major democracies have tight limits on the total spend, very restrictive rules about how the money can be spent and some have state funding of some of the spent to limit the power of rich donors.

Here are some examples.

The UK

General election campaigns in the UK have strict limits on how much parties can spend. Individual parliamentary candidates have strict limits based on the number of voters in their constituency. National campaigns by parties are limited to about £20 million (i'll emphasise that again, that is MILLION not Billion). In the 2019 election the Conservative party came close to that limit in the national campaign and both major parties spent around £5m in total on candidates in individual constituencies.

The total spend by all parties in 2019 was significantly less that £100m (which is less than 5% of the spend in the 2020 US campaign even adjusted for population.)

Donations to parties have some limits. Both local and national donations and spend must be reported and are audited (with occasional prosecutions for exceeding the limits).

TV advertising is not allowed. But major parties are granted free slots on national TV (often as 10min slots called Party political Broadcasts) based on votes in previous elections.

France

Presidential campaigns in France are conducted with strict spending limits. individual candidates can only spend up to about €23m. About half of the spend is state-funded (so there is little benefit to seeking donations from rich donors). Corporate donations and donations from unions are not allowed.

Radio and TV advertising is not allowed.

Canada

Canada has tight limits on spending and donations which are only allowed from permanent residents or citizens. There are caps on the size of individual donations. And, until 2015, state subsidies based on votes cast in the previous election made up about a third of spending.

Donations from corporations and unions are prohibited. Total spending by parties was less than can$ 100m in 2009.

There are also disclosure rules on donations and spending.

Rules vary in other countries

There is a wide variety of different rules in other major democracies. Some, like Australia, have few limits and few requirements for transparency about donations. Many European countries have limits on donations and total spending, many enforce transparency about donations and many have some form of state subsidy. Many offer parties free time on TV but ban political advertising (a major cost in the USA). Some countries ban donations from corporations and/or unions.

Almost no major western democracy (with the possible exception of Australia) has electoral spending pr voter that comes close to being 10% of the spend in a typical USA election cycle. The majority of other democracies enforce far more transparency on donors.

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