On April 25, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), the Council of Europe Office in Ukraine (CoE) / Venice Commission, the United States Agency for International Development’s Responsible Accountable Democratic Assembly (USAID Rada) program, Internews Ukraine and Center UA organized a conference titled “The Ways to Decrease the Cost of Election Campaigns in Ukraine.” The event assembled electoral experts, journalists, political professionals, academics, representatives of regulatory agencies and civil society to discuss preventing excessive funding of election campaigns in Ukraine.
In opening remarks, Morten Enberg, Head of Office of the Council of Europe in Ukraine, stressed that “According to international experts, paid advertising in audiovisual mass media during pre-election campaigning is a powerful and perilous tool. In particular, it may result in excessive funding of pre-election campaigns, decreased opportunities for political participation as well as mitigate the impact of public debates. Therefore, due to a number of issues associated with mass media regulation during election process and finding possible ways to decrease the cost of election campaigns in Ukraine, the Council of Europe Office in Ukraine welcomes and supports in-depth discussion on the abovementioned, involving national and international experts, politicians, civil society representatives.”
Peter Erben, IFES Ukraine Senior Country Director, IFES Senior Global Electoral Adviser, noted that: "Lion’s share of party and candidate expenses cover political advertisement, predominantly of TV. This poses a risk to fairness of election process, as parties and candidates supported by wealthy donors possess a considerable competitive edge over their contestants. Unlimited electoral spending also creates a breeding ground for political corruption, as big donors are set to reclaim their ‘investments’ through undue influence on newly elected officials. There are different approaches to curb the role of money during elections. One way would be to set restrictions – ranging from complete ban to measured limitations – on political advertisement. Establishing campaign spending limits on all types of elections is another way to address excessive cost of election campaigns. Both measures have their downsides, and these also should be carefully considered. Moreover, both approaches would be meaningless without the state’s capacity to enforce their implementation and impose proportionate and dissuasive sanctions in unbiased manner.”
With less than a year before the next presidential elections in Ukraine in March 2019, it is important to engage in constructive dialogue on how to reduce dependence of political parties and candidates on wealthy donors and ensure a level financial playing field for electoral contestants well in advance.
During the conference participants shared their views on how to effectively regulate the role of money in election campaigns and considered advantages and risks of introducing campaign spending limits and political advertising restrictions. Conference participants discussed lessons-learned from international experience in regulating election spending.
There was general consensus around the following findings:
Spending limits prevent excessive funding of election campaigns and enable electoral contestants to administer effective campaigns;
Clear definition of and guidance for political advertising should be provided before any bans or other restrictions on political advertising on television and radio or outdoor political advertising are introduced;
Independence and impartiality of organizations overseeing election campaign funding should be guaranteed;
Clear delineation of responsibilities of institutions involved in supervising media activities during the elections should be ensured;
Effective, proportionate and dissuasive sanctions for violating campaign spending limits and political advertising bans should apply to perpetrators.
Full text of the draft statement is available in English and Ukrainian for comments. Please share your comments, if any, by May 2, 2018 to email@example.com.
A full recording of the conference in English and Ukrainian is available for those who could not attend in person.