Government bill to reform political party financing laws

Government bill to reform political party financing laws

İstanbul streets are filled with party banners during election campaigning. A new bill will force parties to be more transparent about campaigning expenditures.

January 02, 2011, Sunday/ 12:40:00/ ERCAN YAVUZ

Turkey is taking a new step in a national anti-corruption strategy program by increasing the transparency of political party financing. Corruption in Turkey is allegedly most rampant in political financing, ranked 56th on the world corruption index released in October by the international anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International (TI).

 In an attempt to remedy the situation, the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) on Dec. 9 submitted a bill that seeks to reform regulations on the financing of political parties. The bill is expected to be passed before the June 2011 general elections. The government's main target is to adopt the EU system of political finance regulation by 2014.

Turkey's 56th-place rank in the TI index this year is a slight improvement over the past few years, but the country was grouped with others such as Russia, Thailand, Hungary, Columbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Armenia and Macedonia in a bribery rating also released by TI this December. The government's action plan to fight corruption in Turkey is based on the system used in European Union countries. A report on transparency in politics prepared by the Parliament Research Center clearly shows that Turkey significantly lags behind all European countries.

Political party finance is provided by direct Treasury support in Turkey, except during coups d'état or interim governments. Under the Law on Political Parties, those parties that garner at least 7 percent in general elections are eligible for Treasury aid.

The minimum amount of general election votes required to qualify for parliamentary representation is 10 percent in Turkey, which is significantly higher than in European countries. There is also a stark contrast in terms of Treasury aid, as the highest requirement for state support is 3 percent in those countries.

In Turkey, financing provided by the Treasury is allotted to political parties on a vote-percentage basis. During general elections, the Treasury gives parties three times their annual payout, and twice the annual payout for local election campaigns. Many instances of political parties misusing Treasury funds and providing false invoices to document their expenditures have been recorded in Turkey.

Political parties also enjoy indirect financing from public agencies as all their utilities, rent, heating, communications, travel, campaigning and salaries are paid using Treasury funding. They are also exempt from all taxes on income earned from other sources, with the exception of immovable assets and property. Donations to political parties and fees paid by party members are also not subject to taxation. In fact, membership fees and donations remain as one of the grayest areas in the financing of politics. Political parties are also exempt from commercial and advertising taxes for putting up banners or renting billboards. Oddly enough, an independent candidate is not afforded that opportunity. The Election Law also grants 10 minutes of political ad space on television free of charge to political parties. They are not allowed to publish or air paid-for ads on radio and television stations.

The earnings and expenditures of Turkish political parties are inspected by the Constitutional Court. In the new bill the AK Party proposed, this duty is transferred to a department of the Court of Accounts. The bill also allows for scrutiny by independent auditors.

Although there are regulations on inspection of political party finances, spending by individual candidates is not monitored in any way. The bill also sets a spending limit per voter in a candidate's electoral region. Members of Parliament and mayoral candidates will inform district election boards on their spending after audits carried out by public accountants. If the bill is passed, they will also have to publicly disclose on the Internet any income earned in donations or financial aid.

The situation in Europe

The Parliament Research Center's report also includes information on how political financing is regulated in European countries. According to the report, political parties in Germany that earn at least 0.5 percent of the vote in European and Bundestag elections, at least 1 percent in state elections, are eligible for Treasury funds. The total of financial support for all parties cannot by law exceed 133 billion euros. Cash donations can be no more than 1,000 euros, while anonymous donations cannot be higher than 5 euros.

In Austria, political parties that have at least one seat in the national parliament and at least one seat in the European Parliament are eligible for state aid. There are no limitations set on the amount of donations that can be made to a political party, but the contact details of the donor are recorded for contributions above 7,260 euros. In Bulgaria, parties that are represented in Parliament with even one member or win 1 percent of the national vote are eligible for state funding. The limit on contributions by individuals is set at 5,114 euros per year. Anonymous donations are not allowed.

In the Czech Republic, parties that earn at least 3 percent in general elections or have at least one member in the parliament, senate, a regional council or the Prague City Council are eligible for state support. There are no upper limits for donations. In Denmark, a political party that has at least one member in the parliament or at least 1,000 votes in the general election is eligible for state aid. Parliamentary groups that have more than three members are paid 37,000 euros monthly. There are no upper limits on donations and contributions; however, like in all EU countries, the identity of high-paying donors should be cited in financial reports. In Finland, all political parties that have at least one member in parliament are eligible for political party funding for the state. There are no regulations or limitations on contributions, nor is there any obligation to announce donor identity.

In France, political parties that have at least one seat in parliament or at least 1 percent of the vote in at least 50 electoral regions are eligible for state aid. Treasury aid to 40 political parties in 2010 totaled 74,881,156.29 euros. There are also upper limits and regulations regarding donations.

In England, parties with at least two members in the lower chamber make use of state funds. The annual political party aid is 2 million pounds. There are no upper limits for political party donations; however, parties have to account for contributions higher than 5 pounds and prove that these come from legitimate sources. It is also obligatory to notify the national election commission in the case of donations that are higher than a certain limit.

In Spain, parties that have at least one member in each of the parliament's two chambers are eligible for state financing. They are paid 12,000 euros for every seat in the Senate or the House of Representatives and 0.45 euro for every vote earned. Individuals or organizations can donate at most 60,000 euros to a political party in a year.

Political parties that have at least one member in Parliament or at least 2.5 percent of the vote in Sweden are eligible for state support. Parties are paid 103,865 euros per parliamentary seat annually. Although there is no law obliging Swedish parties to disclose their income sources, all political parties do.

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