Few would deny that money plays a central role in the political dynamics of Eastern and Central European politics. Despite differences in political systems and cultural values, many countries in this region share common challenges in the areas of money in politics.
Like in many parts of the world, involvement in politics has become a lucrative affair for a select few as witnessed by the influence of oligarchs or corporations and the large flows of money into politics. The phenomenon of business people advancing their corporate or personal interests as elected representatives is not unusual and private sector kickbacks in return for government favors have been behind party funding scandals in many countries.
Another crucial and recurrent issue is the misuse of administrative resources, often during the electoral process. Whether the abuse is related to unequal access to media or to governments extracting money from state owned companies, its effects on the ability for equal competition between the government and the opposition is damaging. Even more serious is the reported penetration of illegal funds into politics, stemming for example from organized crime or foreign sources.
Transparency remains an additional challenge; official reports are often incomplete and only show an estimated fraction of the amounts that flow in and out of politics. In cases where data is made public it is often in a disorganized and non-user-friendly manner- all of which hinders public scrutiny. Although there are numerous factors that contribute to poor transparency surrounding political finance, the relatively low donation and spending limits in many countries contributes to parties seeking funding elsewhere.
In response to these problems, countries in Eastern and Central Europe have issued over the last decades more detailed regulations on money in politics than any other region in the world. Elaborate political finance regimes include limits on donations and spending, strict transparency rules and sometimes generous public funding schemes that aim to counterbalance private donations. However, despite the detailed legal frameworks on political finance, many countries are still grappling with the implementation of the rules. Although not unique to this region, the enforcement of rules remains a considerable challenge, fueled by a lack of political will to create strong enforcement mechanisms, a lack of mandate or capacity of the competent oversight agency and unclear reporting procedures for parties and candidates.
Why a Regional Conference?
Guided by a series of regional recommendations on political finance regulation, promoted among others by the Council of Europe through the reports of its Group of States against Corruption (GRECO), and by the Organization of Security and Co-operation in Europe, several countries in this region have taken serious steps towards improving their legal frameworks and the practical implementation of political finance rules.
With increasing de jure control over money in politics in Eastern and Central Europe, the focus of discussions during this conference will be on the implementation of these rules and on assessing what has worked and how to effectively enforce political party finance rules. Enhancing disclosure of political party funding and monitoring the use (or abuse) of administrative resources will also be topics for debate. The above discussions will ultimately aim at moving from a policy-based discussion to a practice-based discussion, where new laws and practices introduced are based on their proven effectiveness in other contexts.
The conference also represents an opportunity for political finance oversight agencies and civil society to create alliances and deepen their collaboration across national borders. Topics for discussion during the conference include: how to design effective regulatory bodies; how to monitor political finance income and expenditure; and how to increase transparency through better reporting.
In short, the conference aims to achieve the following:
- Identify areas of political finance implementation that require reforms, using OSCE/ODIHR and Council of Europe Election Observation Missions’ reports as well as GRECO Reports, and offer suggestions on how to design such reforms;
- Exchange good practices and lessons learned regarding the effective enforcement and monitoring of political finance legal frameworks;
- Identify approaches, mechanisms and procedures for improving the implementation of existing regulations; and
- Contribute to the creation of a regional peer network on political finance.
The regional conference on Money in Politics in Tbilisi will build on global findings from similar recent political finance conferences, including the Global Conference on Money in Politics held in Mexico in September 2015.
Format, Venue and Participants
The conference will take place over two days. The first day will start with thought-provoking presentations on contemporary developments of money in politics in the region. This overview of political finance will be followed by parallel working sessions, which will allow participants to examine challenges and experiences in more detail. The working sessions will continue during the second day of the conference, with a final session dedicated to illustrate findings and recommendations emerged during the discussions.
Participants will primarily be composed of key actors that shape or enforce political finance policy at the regional and national level. This includes political party officials, political finance enforcement agencies, international organizations, watchdogs from civil society, international and citizen observers, as well as academia.