Donations caps without electoral expenditure caps... an unhappy mix
The Centre for Public Integrity welcomes the opportunity to make a submission to the Panel’s review of the 2018 reforms introduced to the Electoral Act 2002 (Vic) (Electoral Act).
The Centre for Public Integrity is a non-partisan think tank led by integrity experts from academia, public policy, and the judiciary. Since our establishment in 2019, one of our primary research focuses has been money in politics. Noting the Panel’s key matters for consideration, our submission addresses:
- Elements of Victoria’s donations regime, including caps and disclosure requirements
- Expenditure caps
- Electoral funding
While we welcome the improvements made to Victoria’s regulation of political donations in 2018, we are concerned that the detail and interaction of some of the reforms may be having an adverse impact on political equality. In particular, our concerns relate to what is currently excluded from the definition of ‘gift’ under the Electoral Act, as well as the absence of electoral expenditure caps and the current structure of the public funding scheme.
We consider that the exclusion from the donations disclosure and cap regime of affiliation fees, subscription fees, fundraising attendance fees and payments from a nominated entity to its party operate to substantially benefit the major parties. This is inequitable and should be remedied.
We are also concerned that the absence of electoral expenditure caps in a jurisdiction where donations caps are in place, as in Victoria, risks entrenching incumbency. Moreover, we believe that electoral expenditure caps are the only way to:
- halt the established electoral expenditure ‘arms race’;
- prevent money distorting election outcomes;
- promote political equality; and
- encourage elected members to represent their constituencies’ interests (and, where applicable, exercise their ministerial responsibilities) rather than focus on raising campaign funds.
We acknowledge and support the recommendations made by the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission in its 2022 special report on corruption risks associated with political donations and lobbying. We also acknowledge and support the recent recommendations of the Commonwealth Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters (JSCEM) in its interim report following its inquiry into the 2022 federal election.
A significant portion of this submission is drawn from our recent submission to the inquiry by the Commonwealth JSCEM into the 2022 election, though we have adapted it to Victoria.
We would be pleased to be of any further assistance to the Panel in its important work. Sincerely,
Dr Catherine Williams
Download the submission in full here