Dr Alistair Clark, Reader in Politics, chaired an online discussion held as part of the launch of the ‘Regulating Election Finance’ report, published by the independent Committee on Standards in Public Life (CSPL).
It makes a number of recommendations to modernise and reform the current system. These include tightening the requirement to identify the true source of donations and reduce the potential for foreign money to influence UK elections. It also recommends making it easier for voters to access to information about how money is spent at elections and referendums in the age of digital campaigning.
Dr Clark said: “This is a landmark report into regulating election finance from the Committee on Standards in Public Life. The measures proposed will enhance transparency and enforcement around election finance and digital campaigning, two issues of major concern.
“It has been an honour to be asked to help facilitate the report’s launch, and I hope the UK government acts swiftly to implement these vitally important recommendations.”
Launching the report, Lord (Jonathan) Evans said: “Knowing how money has been spent to influence your vote at an election or referendum is fundamental to democracy. Electoral law in this country is highly complex, with two different sets of laws regulating spending by candidates standing at elections and political parties.
“Digital campaigning has revolutionised the way parties and campaigners engage with voters. But it has also made it harder to track how much is being spent, on what, where and by whom. Questions have also been raised about whether the current system for regulating campaign finance is coherent and proportionate.
“The system for regulating election spending must be robust enough to prevent real abuse, but not deter or prevent smaller parties and individuals from taking part. We need effective rules that ensure fairness without designing a system so complex and demanding that it deters those who cannot rely on the support of well-resourced party machinery.”
The review was launched in June 2020 and invited views on the way donations and campaign expenditure by candidates, political parties and non-party campaigners in election and referendum campaigns are regulated and enforced by the Electoral Commission, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and the Police.
Lord Evans added: “Taken together, our recommendations deliver significant improvements to the current framework for regulating election finance, creating a more transparent, proportionate and effective system.
“Some will think that the recommendations in this report don’t go far enough. Others will think they are too radical. We have sought to take into account the diversity of views we heard and make practical recommendations that will lead to tangible improvements to the current system, both for those who must understand and comply with it and for the public, who are entitled to know how money is being spent to influence their vote.”
Press release adapted with thanks to the Committee for Standards in Public Life