«Dr Magnus Ohman, IFES Political Finance Advisor The analysis was conducted by Magnus Ohman as the result of an IFES and Carter Center initiative, and ...»
An analysis of the
mechanisms put in
place for the 2009
Dr Magnus Ohman,
IFES Political Finance Advisor
The analysis was conducted by Magnus Ohman as the result of an IFES and Carter Center
initiative, and was conducted during visits to Beirut in March and August 2009. The opinions
expressed are those of the author and do not represent IFES or the Carter Center.
The Political Finance Framework in Lebanon Introduction This analysis focuses on the political finance regulatory system that was put in place in Lebanon through the 2008 Parliamentary Election Law, and which was first applied in relation to the 7 June 2009 Parliamentary elections. The purpose is to analyse the system that has been introduced, to identify possible difficulties and to make recommendations for improvements in advance of future elections.
Money is an unavoidable part of politics and elections. Money is the means through which political parties and candidates can reach the electorate with their message, through media advertisements, posters, rallies and door to door campaigning. However, money can also serve to skew the political process so that election results do not reflect the wishes of the voters.
These are some of the main problems with the role that money may play in politics;
Money risks making large and wealthy interests more important in election campaigns • than the wishes and interests of the electorate. Smaller and less established groups may find themselves having no voice in the competition for voters’ attention.
Related to this, money can lead to the distortion of electoral campaigns and ultimately • of electoral outcomes. Vote buying, corruption of electoral officials and the abuse of state resources can result in election results that do not accurately reflect the wishes of the electorate.
Finally, once politicians have been elected, they are supposed to represent those who • elected them. However, if they have won power through accepting significant contributions from specific interests, there is a significant risk that they end up serving these interests to the detriment of the public good. This form of conflict of interest may be very difficult to avoid completely, but various forms of regulation can reduce such conflicts, and the most important antidote is to let the people know where the politicians received their funds.
This was the first time that campaign finance was controlled and monitored in Lebanese history, and it must be accepted that not everything can be perfect straight away. If the history of political finance regulation and transparency enhancement has taught us anything, it is that it is a time consuming process without an end point. In line with this, it should be expected that not all candidates will submit financial reports, and that not all reports will be complete. The SCEC may also not be able to audit all submitted financial statements completely. Such good faith shortcomings should be noted but accepted as part of the learning process that Lebanon is undergoing.
Nonetheless, there are some principles that should be established immediately, as they may otherwise be difficult to implement. The unbiased implementation of reporting regulations and sanctions is an absolute must. While it may not be universally accepted, I would also argue that the principle of transparency should also be extended to making received reports available to the public, whom political parties and candidates are after all striving to represent.
“Political finance” is often divided into “political party finance” and “campaign finance”, with the former relating to the ongoing finances of political parties (not necessarily related to elections), and the latter referring to the income and expenditure of political parties and candidates in relation to electoral campaigns. While each country has its own way of regulating these matters, it is common that political party finance is considered in an Act relating to political parties, whereas campaign finance is a topic in an Act dealing with elections.
The Political Finance Framework in Lebanon
Political party finance The situation is however very different in Lebanon, where political parties have played an ambiguous role for several decades. The particular electoral system used in Lebanon, where each Parliamentary seat is de facto assigned to a particular religious group, does not encourage the formation of broad based and ideological political parties. There is no specific Political Parties Law in Lebanon, and the activities of parties are also not regulated in other legislation.1 Most importantly, political parties do not nominate candidates in Lebanese elections, though there is seldom any doubt to which political party individual deputies belong.
It is noticeable that the 2008 Parliamentary Elections Law does not even mention political parties, and the campaign finance regulation contained therein is exclusively focused on candidates. Political parties are subsequently not required to submit any reports on their income and expenditure in relation to election campaigns. However, expenses incurred by parties (and others) on behalf of candidates need to be included in the reports submitted by the candidates.
Campaign finance Campaign (candidate) finance, is regulated in Chapter five of the Elections law, and developed further in the Rules and Procedures for the Supervisory Commission on the Election Campaign.
Note that in this case, there is a direct definition of the campaign period in the finance section of the law (this is normally regulated separately). The campaign period starts on the date the candidate applies for nomination and ends on polling day.
As will be described in more detail below, there are no reports to be submitted before elections, but after an election each candidates needs to report on both income (in cash and in kind) and expenditure. The system adopted in Lebanon is largely based on the French system, which itself is a fairly new invention (having been introduced in 1988 and existing in its current form since 1995). In France, candidates report after elections to the Commission Nationale des Comptes de Campagne et des Financements Politiques (CCFP), which can also refer cases to the legal system for sanctions, and which similarly to the SCEC in Lebanon does not make received reports public.2 Political finance oversight institutions in Lebanon Three institutions are directly involved in the regulation of political finance in Lebanon; the Supervisory Commission on the Electoral Campaign (SCEC), established through the 2008 Elections Law; the Minister of Interior and Municipalities (and the Council of Ministers); and the Constitutional Council.
The SCEC focuses mainly on two aspects of the electoral process; campaign finance regulation and the activities of the media. The Commission is not entirely independent as its meetings are chaired by the above mentioned Minister, who also suggests the members from those nominated by groups defined in the law (the Council of Ministers makes the actual With the exception of an Ottoman law dating back to 1909, which mainly stipulates that political parties should register as associations.
There are admittedly significant differences between the French and the Lebanese systems. For example, French political parties submit reports in relation to elections, and only natural persons are allowed to make contributions. Public funding is also available in France, creating a carrot for candidates and parties to comply, whereas actions from the CCFP can lead to candidates being disqualified, providing a stick (though a weakened stick since the 1996 legislation making exceptions for good faith cases). Finally, campaign donations in France are (partially) tax deductible, providing an incentive for contributors to make this information available. See further Austin, Reginald & Tjärnström, Maja (eds) (2003) The Funding of Political Parties and Election Campaigns. International IDEA, Stockholm. Thanks to Alexandra Hovelacque of the EC Electoral Assistance Project for emphasising some of these points.
The Political Finance Framework in Lebanon appointment).3 In addition, the said Minister is set to supervise the Commission’s work, and he also decides on its internal regulations (Elections Law Article 14). The ten members of the SCEC are set to supervise the 2009 elections from the start of its work in December 2008 until six months after the 7 June polling day, when their term ends. In accordance with the Elections Law (Article 22), the SCEC has decided to create a Committee on Campaign Finance (Rules and Procedures Article 12), consisting of some of the Commissioners. However, it seems that such a committee was not created.
The Minister of Interior and Municipalities (hereinafter referred to as the “Minister”) oversees the work of the SCEC, and his Ministry is responsible for large parts of the organisation of elections in Lebanon. Apart from his role in the work of the SCEC described above, the Minister also suggests the level of the variable part of the candidate spending limit, which is then decreed by the Council of Ministers (Article 57).
The Constitutional Commission is established through Article 19 of the 1923 Constitution of Lebanon. However, although the law on the Council being amended in late 2008, its membership was not complete until the end of May 2009, less than two weeks before the elections. The Council takes decisions on challenges against the election of candidates in accordance with the Law on the Establishment of the Constitutional Council. In the case of a challenge, the Council will contact the SCEC which will submit its report on the financial activities and statement submitted by the candidate in question.
In brief, the roles of the various institutions in the field of political finance can be illustrated through the below tables.
Article 56 of the Elections Law lists the allowed sources of income for candidates during campaigns. These are limited to his/her personal funds (including those of her/his family), and contributions by Lebanese natural or legal persons. Contributions by foreign sources are explicitly banned, and candidates and political parties do not receive any funds from the Lebanese government.4 In-kind contributions (goods and services) are also perceived as contributions, with the exceptions of services provided free by volunteers.
The Elections Law further states that candidates are not allowed to receive more funds than they are allowed to spend (see further below). On the other hand, nothing seems to hinder candidates from receiving more funds than they spend, allowing for possible profits to be made.
In addition, since there is no ban on receiving or spending funds on campaigning before the official campaign finance reporting period starts, campaign fundraising up until two months before polling day need not be reported (assuming the candidate registers at the end of the nomination period).
Article 58 enumerates allowed expenses, though these are not exclusive;
Rental of electoral offices and all related charges • Organisation of rallies, festivals, public meetings and election-related banquets • Preparation, publication and distribution of advertising and promotional materials such • as books, booklets, bulletins, publications and letters sent by regular or electronic mail Design, printing, distribution and posting of pictures, posters and billboards • Compensation paid to party agents and persons involved in the electoral campaign • Transportation fees of electoral campaign staff and voters • Electoral advertising costs and any other costs paid to any radio, TV, newspaper, • magazine or any other publication as means for electoral campaigning Not only expenses incurred by the candidates him/herself are perceived as expenses, but also expenses made “in their favour or with their express of tacit consent by other persons” (as long as these expenses are “directly related” to the electoral campaign).
A rather unusual regulation is contained in Article 59 in the Elections Law. This article bans the provision of money to voters by candidates, and such a ban is common practice in many countries.5 However, it also bans candidates and political parties from giving money to charities, social and cultural organisations and sports clubs etc during the campaigning period. This regulation targets a common practice of candidates concealing campaign spending as charitable donations to communities, often publicly. There is however an exception for candidates and political parties who have supported and “owned or run” such an organisation for at least three years. The SCEC clarified this ban in a statement dated 25 March 2009 by noting that the support provided during the campaign period should remain the same as previous.
See further Sarkis, Chantal & Elmekji-Boladian, Karma (2009) “Public Funding of Political Parties: The Case of Lebanon” in Public Funding Solutions for Political Parties in Muslim-Majority Societies. IFES, Washington.
Though banned, monitoring organisations such as LTA and LADE noted that several candidates engaged in such activities.
The Political Finance Framework in Lebanon The use by sitting Parliamentarians of the not insubstantial “deputy allowances” is not affected by the article in question, allowing MPs to conduct development activities in their constituencies during the election campaign. While many incumbent deputies have chosen not to stand for reelection in previous elections in Lebanon, such development activities could give a significant advantage to those who do, and could amount to an abuse of state resources.