In honor of the 2015 Open Government Partnership Summit, we are happy to release the newest draft of the Declaration on Political Finance Openness as part of the Money, Politics and Transparency project (MPT). MPT is a joint initiative between the Sunlight Foundation, Global Integrity and the Electoral Integrity Project, created to foster a network of national-level reformers by providing resources, such as in-depth research, analysis and global principles on political finance.
Throughout 2015, we’ve been working to build consensus within the reform community on a set of global principles to guide fair, accountable and transparent political finance systems. This document is intended to represent the values of a strong global civil society community and stand behind the weight of these actors. The latest iteration of the declaration incorporates feedback from the convening of advocates we held this summer, with representatives from national-level organizations from across the globe, including Poder Ciudadano from Argentina, Centre UA from Ukraine and MyVoteCounts from South Africa. Several larger international players such as International Foundations for Electoral Systems and Transparency International also participated.
Building global consensus on such a complicated and context-driven topic as political finance can be uniquely challenging. We’ve made some big changes within this iteration and have made significant strides in resolving some of the major dividing points:
- Defining “openness” beyond open data. Transparency within this issue is very important. It is essential for informing citizens about elections and the political process. Observing trends in elections and party funding can even fuel future reform. However, better data alone can’t fix highly dysfunctional systems marred by lack of political will, nor balance the interests within the policymaking process. Sure, a set of principles that only addresses transparency would be much easier; it would likely be much less controversial among policy advocates and government officials. It also wouldn’t reflect the nuance that the global reform community acknowledges as being central to this issue. So, for the purposes of the declaration, we’re defining “openness” more broadly. Beyond transparency, we believe that political finance systems should also be inclusive, fair and accountable, such that they are “open” to all citizens and ideologies, and our definition of “openness” reflects this.
- Let’s be prescriptive, but not restrictive. As we’ve described in the past, one of the challenges within this exercise has been deciding how broad these principles should be. We were concerned that past iterations of the declaration were inconsistent, with some principles being very specific and others with much more room for interpretation because of concerns about being too prescriptive when political finance issues are so context driven. In the latest iteration of the document, we tried to make all of the principles as unambiguous as possible and tried to strike a balance such that the principles are prescriptive about what values an open political finance system should embody, but not too specific as to not account for the particular regulatory context.
- To whom is the declaration addressed? Given the range of actors involved in the political finance system, it was necessary to figure out who the declaration is targeting: Who has an obligation to uphold these principles? We decided that the declaration should be a call from civil society organizations to all political actors, including candidates, political parties, elected officials and relevant government bodies, and have tried to ensure this is reflected within this version. Although it is a call from civil society, we do hope that, ultimately, government bodies, elected officials and multi-lateral institutions will also acknowledge the declaration.
As for next steps, we plan to do additional targeted outreach to stakeholders. However, we have tried to be open throughout this process, and for that reason, the declaration continues to be available online for comment. We would welcome your feedback, either within the online platform, or by reaching out to the team directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please get your feedback and comments to us by Dec. 4. We will continue to gather feedback and launch the final document with endorsements by the end of the year.