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This report discusses the regulation of campaign financing and spending in national elections and the availability of free airtime for campaign advertising in Austria, Canada, Finland, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. Specifically, the individual country surveys address the extent to which each country applies limits on the amounts that can be contributed to political parties and candidates, the existence of ceilings on campaign expenditures, and the availability of free airtime for broadcast advertising. Countries included in this study demonstrate different models used in regulating campaign financing.

A comparative summary is included.

Austria

In Austria, political parties receive public funding to participate in the formation of a “political will.” The amount of the subsidy depends on the number of people eligible to vote in the last relevant elections and the number of votes cast for the party. The Federal Political Parties Act 2012 imposes a spending limit of €7 million for campaign expenses on political parties. Donations may generally be accepted without limitations. There are no specific provisions dealing with media access or airtime for political parties in federal laws. In its general terms and conditions, the Austrian Broadcasting Company (ORF) commits itself to providing equal access and pricing to political parties during their campaigns on the ORF website and in the teletext.

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Canada

Contribution and spending limits are regulated by the Canada Elections Act. The Law places limits on contributions to political parties and political candidates. Only individuals or natural persons (not corporations or trade unions) who are Canadian citizens or permanent residents may make contributions. Election expenses are subject to limits for candidates and registered political parties. Under the Canada Elections Act, only certain networks (not all broadcasters) are required to allocate free time to political parties.

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Finland

Finland caps donations received but not money spent in election campaigns. Parties receive government aid, provided they are represented in the Parliament or received 2% of the national vote in the most recent election. All successful candidates for local, parliamentary, and EU Parliament elections, as well as all presidential candidates and political parties, must report their campaign funding. Ethical guidelines control media coverage of elections and legislative mandates ensure the impartiality of public service broadcasters.

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Israel

Israeli law applies limits on campaign contributions and expenditures in both primaries and general elections. An increased ceiling on contributions is provided to candidates who provide a timely notice of intent not to receive direct governmental funding. Each participating party and candidate list is given free campaign broadcasts during a fourteen-day period before the elections. The length of the broadcasts is determined in accordance with a formula that is composed of a fixed amount, extended by additional time calculated in correlation to the number of members the party or list had in the outgoing Knesset.

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Japan

Japanese law sets annual donation limits for political campaigns. Such limits depend on who is making the donation and who is receiving it. The law also provides for spending limits, but these limits do not apply to all political activities. When a broadcasting station provides air time to candidates or parties, it must also provide the same opportunity to other candidates or parties upon request.

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New Zealand

A mixed member proportional electoral system is in place in New Zealand, with voters having both a candidate vote and a party vote. The Electoral Act 1993 contains limits on how much candidates and parties can spend on election advertising in the three months before an election.  There is no limit on the amount that a New Zealand-based person or company can donate to a candidate or party, provided that they disclose their identity to the recipient. The Broadcasting Act 1989 allows candidates to spend money on radio and television advertising that promotes a vote for themselves, but only up to their spending limit and only during a set election period. They cannot broadcast negative advertising nor use their own funds to purchase additional broadcasting time.

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United Kingdom

Legislation to prevent excessive spending by electoral candidates in the United Kingdom has been in place since 1883. The UK’s system of regulating campaign financing focuses on limiting the expenditure of political parties and individual candidates, rather than limits on donations that can be received by these parties and individuals, combined with a transparent reporting system of donations received and election expenditure incurred. Spending limits are imposed on parties, individual candidates, and third parties. Donations above a certain amount must be reported. Political parties receive a certain amount of broadcasting time on national television and radio free of charge.

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Last Updated: 05/19/2016