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Executive Summary

Official electoral campaigns in France are very brief. Campaign finance is strictly regulated. All forms of paid commercial advertisements through the press or by any audiovisual means are prohibited during the three months preceding the election. Instead, political advertisements are aired free of charge on an equal basis for all of the candidates on national television channels and radio stations during the official campaign. Campaign donations and expenditures are capped. Candidates must appoint an independent financial representative to handle all their financial matters relating to the election. Campaign accounts are audited by a special commission. Candidates whose campaign accounts are certified may be reimbursed up to 50 percent of their expenses by the state if they meet certain conditions.

Introduction

Until relatively recently, regulating campaign financing was clearly not one of the top priorities of the French legislature, although reforms had been discussed. It was only in 1988 that France started to issue laws and decrees relating to the funding of political parties and election campaigns, twenty years after Germany and the Scandinavian countries.[1] The rising costs of electoral campaigns primarily caused by the employment of new sophisticated means of communication, an increasing recourse to illegal sources of funding, the fact that France was lagging behind other European countries in this field, and several embarrassing scandals,[2] led to the promulgation of two laws in March 1988: the Organic Law 88-226[3] and Law 88-227 of March 11, 1988,[4] relating to financial transparency in political life. These were modified and completed by Law 90-55 of January 15, 1990, relating to limits on election expenditures and the reporting of political funding activities.[5] These laws and additional regulations enacted in 1993, 1995, 1996, 2001, 2003, 2004, and 2006, have significantly modified the legal framework of political funding activities.[6] The legislature’s aim was to “moralize” political life by prohibiting certain candidates’ practices, put a ceiling on electoral expenses, regulate public financing and private donations for electoral campaign and other political activities, and assure financial transparency in political life. In addition, it created a monitoring body, the Commission nationale de contrôle des comptes de campagnes et des financements politiques (National Commission on Campaign Accounts and Political Party Financing, hereafter CNCCFP) to ensure the enforcement of these laws.

The President of the Republic and the members (députés) of the National Assembly are elected through direct universal suffrage while members of the Senate are elected by an electoral college. This report, therefore, focuses on the financing of presidential campaigns and of the députés’ campaigns.

The President is elected for a five-year renewable term.[7] An absolute majority of the votes cast is required for election on the first ballot. If no candidate receives a majority in the first ballot, a second round of balloting is held two weeks later. Only the top two, first-round candidates who choose to remain in the running are eligible for the second balloting. Presidential elections must be held not less than twenty days and not more than thirty-five days before the expiration of the term of the President then in office.[8] France’s most recent presidential election took place in April and May of 2007.

The National Assembly has 577 députés elected for a five-year term. Candidates winning 50 percent or more of the vote in their constituencies are elected on the first ballot. If no candidate received a majority, candidates winning less than 12.5 percent are eliminated and the other candidates go on to a second round of voting. The candidate who receives the most votes is elected. The last National Assembly election took place on June 10 and 17 of 2007.

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Duration of Official Campaigns

A.  Bases of Liability

Even if the French have the feeling that they live in an almost quasi-permanent electoral campaign, the length of an official campaign is very brief. As a general rule, it only lasts for the two weeks preceding the first ballot and if necessary the week between the two ballots.[9]

The Electoral Code provides that “the electoral campaign is officially opened the second Monday that precedes the first round of balloting.”[10] Ballots are always held on a Sunday. If a second ballot is necessary, the campaign re-opens the next day for a week.[11] The dates of elections are set forth by decree. In the 2007 presidential election, for example, the decree provided that the first ballot would take place on April 22, 2007, and, if necessary, the second ballot would occur on May 6, 2007. The campaign officially started on April 9, 2007.[12]

In the case of the election to the National Assembly, however, the official campaign opens twenty days before the date of the first ballot.[13]

There are several additional important dates during the preparation of an election. Contributions by physical persons to one or more candidates for a specific election are authorized only “during the year preceding the first day of the election and until the date of the ballot when the election is completed.” [14] They must be collected through an authorized financial representative appointed by the candidate, never paid directly to the candidate himself.[15]

In addition, three months before the ballot, which date is set forth by decree, the following are prohibited:

  • All forms of paid commercial advertisements through the press or by any audiovisual means;[16]
  • Affixing electoral posters or other campaign material in locations and spaces other than those officially assigned to each candidate by the local authorities; and[17]
  • For the candidates, providing toll-free telephone numbers and computer databases to the public.[18]

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Regulation of Private Funding

A.  Contributions by Physical Persons

As seen above, contributions given by physical persons to one or more candidates for a specific election are authorized only during the year preceding the election. With regard to contribution amounts, a distinction is made between contributions below or equal to €150,[19] (referred to as “cash contributions”) and contributions of more than €150. Contributions of more than €150 must be paid by check or online, with the donor duly identified. A physical person duly identified is allowed to contribute up to €4,600.[20] Cash contributions cannot exceed €150 per donor. The total amount of cash contributions to a candidate cannot exceed 20 percent of the authorized campaign expenditure amount when such amount is equal to or more than €15,000.[21]

Physical persons’ donations made to political parties or to election campaigns, and political party membership fees, give rise to a tax credit equal to 66 percent of their amount, with a limit of 20 percent of the taxpayer’s taxable income. Proof of the donation or fee must be provided in order to be allowed the credit.[23] A candidate’s contribution to their own campaign does not give rise to a tax deduction.

B. Corporate, Union, and Other Advocacy Group Contributions

No legal entity is allowed to participate in financing a political candidate unless the legal entity is a political party or a political group. Financing is not allowed in any form whether direct, e.g., by donating money, or indirect, e.g., by rendering services or granting favors or advantages to a candidate’s political campaign by providing services and products below regular market fees or prices.[24]

Nor is a legal entity allowed to finance political parties or political groups. Financing is not allowed in any form whether direct, e.g., by donating money or properties, or indirect, e.g., by rendering services, providing products below regular market fees or prices, or granting favors or advantages to political parties, groups, their financial representatives, or associations.[25]

The intent of Parliament was to cut any link between the economic world and the political world. To compensate for this loss of funding, it sensibly increased public funding.

C. Foreign Contributions

Foreign states or foreign legal entities cannot make direct or indirect donations to a political candidate.[26] No restriction is mentioned regarding foreign physical persons, and there is no provision regarding the requirement to raise all or the majority of funds within a candidate’s home constituency. Political parties also are prohibited from receiving contributions from foreign states or foreign legal entities.[27]

D. Candidate’s Own Contribution

There is no limit to the amount a candidate may contribute to his own campaign other than the general ceilings on campaign expenditures; however, proof that the funds legitimately belong to the candidate must be provided.

E. Political Party Contributions

There is no limit to the amount a political party may wish to contribute to the campaign of one of its candidates other than the general ceilings on campaign expenditures. The ceilings on campaign expenditures are discussed below.

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Ceilings on Campaign Expenditures

France has placed ceilings on campaign expenditures. The ceiling on expenditures for the 2007 presidential campaign for each presidential candidate was €16,166,000.00 for the first ballot, and €21,594,000.00 for each of the two candidates present at the second ballot.[28] The 2007 campaign account of President Nicolas Sarkozy shows that his expenditures were €21,038,893.00,[29] while the total expenditures of his opponent, Segolène Royal, were €20,712, 043.00.[30]

As for the election of the députés, the ceiling is composed of a fixed base (€38,000 per candidate), and an additional amount depending on the population of each electoral district (€.0.15 for each resident) multiplied by a revalorization coefficient of 1.18. For example, the ceiling in an electoral district of 107,425 residents would be calculated as follows: €38,000 + (€0.15 x 107 425) x 1.18 = € 63,854. Ceilings are reviewed every three years.[31]

Ceilings may come into conflict with Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which proclaims the right to freedom of expression. The European Court of Human Rights held in Bowman v. The United Kingdom[32] that imposing on independent third parties a £5 ceiling[33] on publications for the purpose of supporting a candidate’s election campaign was a disproportionate interference with the applicant’s freedom of expression.

The case arose after Mrs. Bowman, the executive director of the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child, was prosecuted for arranging the distribution of one and a half million leaflets across the United Kingdom before the parliamentary elections in April 1992. The leaflets compared the record on abortion of the candidates and clearly exceeded the £5 limit. The Court found that the £5 limit operated “as a total barrier to Mrs. Bowman’s publishing information with a view to influencing the voters in favor of an anti-abortion candidate.”[34] The Court further stated that:

It [the court] is not satisfied that it was necessary thus to limit her expenditure to GPB 5 in order to achieve the legitimate aim of securing equality between candidates, particularly in view of the fact that there were no restrictions placed upon the freedom of the press to support or oppose the election of any particular candidate or upon political parties and their supporters to advertise at national or regional level, provided that such advertisements were not intended to promote or prejudice the electoral prospects of any particular candidate in any particular constituency.[35]

It concluded that the restriction in question was disproportionate to the aim pursued.[36]

No case against France on similar issues and based on Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights could be located. As for a challenge to the ceilings based on the constitutional principle of freedom of expression, the French courts historically have stayed away from challenging the constitutionality of laws. The review of the constitutionality of laws is solely entrusted to the Constitutional Council, which expresses an opinion on the validity of a measure before it is promulgated. A provision declared unconstitutional cannot be promulgated and therefore cannot take effect.

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State Funding

A.  Direct Funding

Presidential candidates are each entitled to reimbursement from the state, equal to one twentieth of the allowable ceiling for their election campaign. However, for candidates that obtained at least 5 percent of the vote on the first ballot, the reimbursement amount is 50 percent of the allowable ceilings on expenditures. In any case, the amount of reimbursement cannot exceed the actual expenses as shown in the candidate’s campaign accounts.[37] The state pays in advance €153,000 to the candidates when the official list of candidates is published in the official gazette.[38]

Candidates in an election for the National Assembly who receive at least 5 percent of the vote on the first ballot are also partly reimbursed for their electoral expenses. The amount refunded is 50 percent of the allowable ceiling and cannot exceed the actual expenses as shown in the candidate’s campaign accounts.[39]

To benefit from this reimbursement, the campaign accounts of the candidates must first have been approved by the monitoring body, the CNCCFP. The state also will reimburse the candidates for the cost of paper and for the printing of ballots, posters, and election circulars. Justification must be provided for these expenses.[40]

B. Indirect Funding

As a general rule, all forms of paid commercial advertisement through the press or by any audiovisual means during the three months preceding an election are prohibited.[41] The state provides free access to public radio and television for political advertisement for a certain amount of time during the official election campaigns.

Each presidential candidate is entitled to an equal amount of time for public television and radio broadcast advertisement during the official campaign. The total minimum air time set forth by law is fifteen minutes per television channel and radio station for each candidate on the first ballot and one hour on the second ballot. The High Council on Audiovisual (Conseil supérieur de l’audiovisuel, hereafter CSA), an independent administrative authority, approves the actual amount of time of advertisement in cooperation with the candidates. During the 2007 presidential election, CSA approved forty-five minutes of advertisement per channel and station for each candidate for the first ballot[42] and sixty minutes for the second ballot.[43] CSA also established with the candidates the duration, format, and numbers of advertisements to be run within the time limits set forth above.

In the National Assembly election, political parties or groups may use public radio and television for 3½ hours for the first ballot, and 12 hours for the second ballot. The 3½-hour and 12-hour periods are divided into two equal parts, one being used by parties belonging to the majority and the other by opposition parties. The time used by each party within their general time slot is decided by the presidents of the parties. If no agreement between the presidents can be reached, the time will be divided by the bureau in charge of the general management of the outgoing National Assembly.[44]

Groups and parties that are not represented at the National Assembly have seven minutes for the first ballot and five minutes for the second, provided that they have at least seventy-five candidates running in the election.

In addition, radio and television channels have the duty to keep the public informed during the electoral campaign and special broadcasts are organized so candidates have the opportunity to express themselves. The principle applicable to these broadcasts is one of equal treatment of the candidates. CSA closely monitors the media to verify that this principle is upheld.[45]

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Audit of Campaign Accounts

To give more weight to campaign reform, the legislature put into place a rigorous system of controls. It created an independent administrative authority, the CNCCFP, to audit campaign accounts of the candidates.[46]

A. Campaign Accounts

During the year preceding an election, candidates must appoint an independent individual or association to handle all their financial matters relating to the election. This appointed agent is required to maintain a separate campaign account, to deposit collected funds, and to pay for expenditures.[47] He must keep records of all receipts and expenses according to their sources and nature. The name of each donor and the amount of their contribution must be indicated.[48]

Each candidate must file their campaign account with the CNCCFP with all necessary justifications on the ninth Friday following the election at the latest. Each candidate’s account must be certified by an accountant.[49]

B. Composition and Role of the CNCCFP

The CNCCFP is composed of nine members appointed by decree for five years: three members from the Conseil d=Etat (France’s Supreme Court for administrative matters); three members from the Cour de Cassation (France’s Supreme Court for judicial matters); and three members from the Cour des comptes (France’s national audit court).[50] The CNCCFP has a permanent secretariat, comprised of thirty to forty persons made available by the Justice, Interior, and Finances Departments. In addition, the CNCCFP calls on approximately 160 judges from either the judicial or the administrative courts to investigate the campaign accounts.[51]

These accounts must be reviewed by the CNCCFP within six months, running from the date of filing, if the election is not contested, or two months, running from the date of expiration of the filing delay, if the election is contested. The CNCCFP renders one of the following decisions:[52]

  • Approves the account. This will happen either when the candidate strictly adheres to the law, or when the irregularities are minor and do not alter the truthfulness of the accounting or show a willingness to circumvent the law.
  • Reassesses the account. Usually, the CNCCFP will reassess the expenditures, modifying the classifications made by the candidate and disapproving expenditures it judges should not be part of the campaign account. After being reassessed, the account may be approved or rejected if it shows a negative balance.
  • Rejects the account when there is violation of one or more dispositions of the Electoral Code.

The candidates are notified of the decisions and the grounds on which they were based. In addition, the CNCCFP also sees to the publication of the campaign accounts in a simplified form in the official gazette.

The CNCCFP also notifies the competent judge or the Public Prosecutor’s Office of irregularities, including the failure of a candidate to submit his campaign account, the rejection of an account for a violation of the legislation on campaign financing, or that an account exceeds the ceiling on campaign expenditures even after reassessment.[53]

C. Penalties for Irregularities

When a candidate exceeds the ceiling on expenditures, the CNCCFP determines a sum equal to the amount in excess that the candidate must pay to the Public Treasury.[54] In addition, a fine of €3,750 and/or imprisonment for up to a year may be imposed on a candidate who does not respect the following provisions:[55]

  • Requirements regarding the handling of all financial matters through an authorized financial representative;
  • Prohibitions on paid commercial advertisements through the press or by any audiovisual means and on providing toll-free telephone numbers and computer databases to the public three months before the ballot;
  • Limitations on the ceilings for donations; or
  • Requirements concerning the ceiling on campaign expenditures.

Finally, the same penalties will apply to anyone who contributes to the financing of election campaigns in violation of the limit set by the law or manages the campaign funds for a candidate in violation of conditions provided for by the law.

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For more information on France see:

Prepared by Nicole Atwill, Senior Foreign Law Specialist

April 2009

  1. LAURENT TOUVET & YVES-MARIE DOUBLET, DROIT DES ELECTIONS § 401 (Ed. Economica, 2007).[Back to Text]
  2. There were no special regulations concerning the funding of political parties until 1988. Parties were subjected to the 1901 law on associations and all of its restrictions on funding. There was no direct public funding, and donations and gift were prohibited. As a result, political parties developed multiple techniques of illegal financing. In 1987, the press uncovered several scandals that forced the government and parliament to confront the issue. See Véronique Pujas & Martin Rhodes, Party Finance and Political Scandal in Italy, Spain, and France, 22 WEST EUROPEAN POLITICS 41-63 (July 1999). [Back to Text]
  3. Loi 88-226 du 11 mars 1988 relative à la transparence financière de la vie politique [Law 88-226 of March 11, 1988, relating to the financial transparency in political life], JOURNAL OFFICIEL [J.O.] Official Gazette of France], Mar. 12, 1988, p. 3288. [Back to Text]
  4. Loi 88-227 du 11 mars 1988 relative à la transparence financière de la vie politique [Law 88-227 of March 11, 1988, relating to financial transparency in political life], J.O., Mar. 12, 1988, p. 3290. [Back to Text]
  5. Loi 90-55 du 15 janvier 1990 relative à la limitation des dépenses électorales et à la clarification du financement des activités politiques [Law 90-55 of January 15, 1990, relating to limits on election expenditures and the reporting of political funding activities ], J.O., Jan. 16, 1990, p. 639. [Back to Text]
  6. LAURENT TOUVET & YVES-MARIE DOUBLET, supra note 1, § 401. [Back to Text]
  7. 1958 Constitution art. 6, CODE ELECTORAL, Annexe II, p. 811 (Dalloz 2008). [Back to Text]
  8. Id. art. 7. [Back to Text]
  9. LAURENT TOUVET & YVES-MARIE DOUBLET, supra note 1, § 305. [Back to Text]
  10. CODE ELECTORAL art. R.26.[Back to Text]
  11. Id. [Back to Text]
  12. Decree 2007-227 of February 21, 2007, J.O, Feb. 22, 2007, p. 3258. [Back to Text]
  13. CODE ELECTORAL art. L.164. [Back to Text]
  14. Id. art. L.52.4.. [Back to Text]
  15. Id. [Back to Text]
  16. Id. art. L.52.1. [Back to Text]
  17. Id. art. L.51. [Back to Text]
  18. CId. art. L.50-1. [Back to Text]
  19. As of April 21, 2009, the exchange rate for Euros to U.S. dollars is €1 = US$1.29504.

    [Back to Text]
  20. CODE ELECTORAL, L.52-8 [Back to Text]
  21. Id. [Back to Text]
  22. CODE GENERAL DES IMPOTS art. 200 (Dalloz 2008). [Back to Text]
  23. CODE ELECTORAL art. L.52-8. [Back to Text]
  24. Loi 88-227 du 11 mars 1988 relative à la transparence financière de la vie politique., CODE ELECTORAL art. 11-4, Annexe IV, p. 890. [Back to Text]
  25. CODE ELECTORAL art. L.52-8. [Back to Text]
  26. Loi 88-227 du 11 mars 1988 relative à la transparence financière de la vie politique, CODE ELECTORAL art. 11-4, Annexe IV, p. 890. [Back to Text]
  27. Decree 2007-140 of February 1, 2007, on Increasing the Ceilings on Campaign Expenditures, J.O., Feb. 3, 2007, p. 2097. [Back to Text]
  28. Decision of the National Commission on Campaign Accounts and Political Financing of November 26, 2007, regarding Nicolas Sarkozy, presidential candidate, J.O., Jan. 10, 2008, p. 574. [Back to Text]
  29. Decision of the National Commission on Campaign Accounts and Political Financing of November 26, 2007, regarding Segolène Royal, presidential candidate, J.O., Jan. 10, 2008, p. 568. [Back to Text]
  30. CODE ELECTORAL, L.52-11. [Back to Text]
  31. Bowman v. United Kingdom, 63 Eur. Ct. H.R. 175 (1998). [Back to Text]
  32. As of April 21, 2009, the exchange rate for British pounds to U.S. dollars is £1 = US$1.46789. [Back to Text]
  33. Bowman v. United Kingdom, 63 Eur. Ct. H.R. at 189. [Back to Text]
  34. Id. [Back to Text]
  35. Id. [Back to Text]
  36. Law 62-1292 of November 6, 1962, on the Election of the President of the Republic as amended, art. 3, CODE ELECTORAL, Annexe II, p. 815. [Back to Text]
  37. Id. [Back to Text]
  38. CODE ELECTORAL art. L.52-11-1.
    [Back to Text]
  39. CODE ELECTORAL art. R.39 (Dalloz 2008). [Back to Text]
  40. Id. art. L.52-1. [Back to Text]
  41. Decree 2001-213 of March 8, 2001, art. 15, CODE ELECTORAL, Annexe II, p. 828. [Back to Text]
  42. CSA Decision 2007-142 of April 3, 2007, J.O., Apr. 5, 2007, p. 6453. [Back to Text]
  43. CSA Decision 2007-282 of April 27, 2007, J.O., Apr. 29, 2007, p. 7666. [Back to Text]
  44. CODE ELECTORAL art. L.167-1. [Back to Text]
  45. LAURENT TOUVET & YVES-MARIE DOUBLET, supra note 1, § 366. [Back to Text]
  46.  CODE ELECTORAL art. L.52-14. [Back to Text]
  47. Id. art. L.52-4. [Back to Text]
  48. Id. art. L.52-12. [Back to Text]
  49. Id [Back to Text]
  50. Id. art. L.52-14. [Back to Text]
  51. LAURENT TOUVET & YVES-MARIE DOUBLET, supra note 1, § 464. [Back to Text]
  52. CODE ELECTORAL art. L.52-15. [Back to Text]
  53. Id. [Back to Text]
  54. Id. [Back to Text]
  55. Id. art. L 113-1.  [Back to Text]

Last Updated: 09/16/2014