Political finance

General

How are political parties and politicians funded in your jurisdiction?

Political parties in the United Kingdom are mainly funded through membership fees, donations and loans.

Public funding may also be available in the form of policy development grants or payments towards the administration costs of opposition parties in Parliament.

In practice, public funding is modest and party membership has declined significantly over the past few decades. Therefore, the main political parties in the UK have come to rely increasingly on donations.

Individual politicians may be funded by donations and loans, but public funding is not available.

Registration of interests

Must parties and politicians register or otherwise declare their interests? What interests, other than travel, hospitality and gifts, must be declared?

There are no requirements for political parties to register or declare their interests at an organisation level.

Under the Code of Conduct for Members of Parliament, individual members of the House of Commons are required to register their financial interests. Subject to some minimum financial thresholds, members must declare any relevant interest in any proceeding of the House or its committees, and in any communications with ministers, members, public officials or public office holders. Interests fall within the following categories:

  • employment and earnings;
  • donations and other support for activities as a Member of Parliament;
  • gifts, benefits and hospitality from UK sources;
  • visits outside the United Kingdom;
  • gifts and benefits from sources outside the United Kingdom;
  • land and property;
  • shareholdings;
  • any other financial interest or material benefit that might reasonably be thought by others to influence the member’s acts or words;
  • employed family members; and
  • family members engaged in lobbying.

In addition, the Ministerial Code requires government ministers to disclose their interests for publication. This includes constituency interests, personal interests and connections and private interests whether financial or otherwise.

The Code of Conduct for Members of the House of Lords requires members to register all relevant interests - financial or otherwise - that might reasonably be thought to influence their parliamentary actions, and to declare any relevant interest when speaking in the House or communicating with ministers or public servants.

Contributions to political parties and officials

Are political contributions or other disbursements to parties and political officials limited or regulated? How?

Under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (PPERA), the Electoral Commission regulates donations and membership fees in relation to registered political parties, members associations (groups of party members) and holders of relevant elected offices.

The Electoral Commission has the power to investigate potential breaches of the rules and to take action where any breach has occurred. Such action includes the imposition of fines or requirements to take or desist from specified action. The Commission may also pass on details of a breach to the police or prosecuting authorities where it believes the breach has a significant impact on confidence in the transparency and integrity of party, and election finance.

Sources of funding for political campaigns

Describe how political campaigns for legislative positions and executive offices are financed.

Political parties are not permitted to use any public funding for campaigning purposes. Campaigns are funded through donations and loans.

The PPERA regulates donations and loans to registered political parties, their members, members of the House of Commons and other elected officials. It requires that donations and loans over £500 are accepted only from ‘permissible donors’ - individuals on the UK electoral register or UK registered organisations - and are reported to the Electoral Commission for publication. Northern Ireland political parties may also accept donations from individuals and organisations in the Republic of Ireland.

The definition of a donation includes not only money but also goods or services provided without charge or on non-commercial terms. It should also be noted that the Electoral Commission considers hospitality to fall within the definition of a donation.

Lobbyist participation in fundraising and electioneering

Describe whether registration as a lobbyist triggers any special restrictions or disclosure requirements with respect to candidate fundraising.

There are no special fundraising restrictions or requirements related to registered lobbyists.

Independent expenditure and coordination

How is parallel political campaigning independent of a candidate or party regulated?

The PPERA governs regulated campaign activity not aimed at a specific candidate in an election. This includes campaigning for or against political parties or categories of candidates, or policies or issues closely associated with a particular party or category of candidates. The types of activity caught include production or publication of material (including online), canvassing or market research, media events, transport with a view to obtaining publicity and particular public events.

For UK parliamentary general elections the rules usually apply within a regulated period beginning 12 months before polling day.

Any third party can spend up to £9,750 per constituency on regulated campaign activity within the regulated period. Those who wish to spend more than £20,000 in England, or £10,000 in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, must register with the Electoral Commission. Once registered, a third-party campaigner must comply with rules on donations, spending and reporting. However, in general, only individuals on the UK electoral register or organisations registered in the United Kingdom can register with the Commission. Those that cannot register may not spend more than the applicable spending limits.

Third-party campaigning for or against one or more candidates in a particular ward or constituency is regulated under the Representation of the People Act 1983 (RPA), which imposes spending limits on activities such as leaflets, advertisements, meetings and websites. For parliamentary general elections the limit is £700 and applies from the date that Parliament is dissolved. Local campaigning is not regulated by the Electoral Commission and breaches of the RPA are handled by the police.