Electoral Reforms In India

Regulating Political Funding: Rules around the world, India’s challenges


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Election Expenditure in India

Mains level : Read the attached story

Central Idea

  • Campaign financing plays a pivotal role in democratic societies, yet the approach to regulating it must be tailored to the nuances of each country’s political system.
  • As exemplified by the United States and India, where political dynamics vary significantly, it is imperative to adopt a framework that aligns with the prevailing political landscape.

Tap to read more about Ceiling on Election Expenditures in India


Understanding Political Systems:

  • US Individual-Centric Elections: In the United States, elections revolve around individual candidates and their campaign machinery, even at the national presidential level.
  • India’s Party-Centric Politics: Conversely, India, akin to most parliamentary systems, places political parties at the core of electoral politics. Therefore, India’s campaign finance framework should primarily focus on parties rather than individual candidates.

Key Aspects of an Effective Framework:

A comprehensive campaign finance framework necessitates attention to four critical facets: regulating donations, imposing expenditure limits, public financing, and disclosure requirements.

(A) Donations:

  • Regulation and Limitation: To prevent undue influence, some individuals or organizations, such as foreign entities, may be prohibited from making contributions.
  • Donation Limits: Donation limits are crucial to thwart the dominance of a few major donors, be they individuals, corporations, or civil society organizations. For instance, the US employs varying contribution limits based on donor types, while the UK relies on expenditure limits.

(B) Expenditure Limits:

  • Balancing Political Competitiveness: Expenditure limits serve as a bulwark against a financial arms race among political parties, allowing them to focus on winning votes rather than fundraising.
  • Examples: In the UK, political parties are restricted from spending more than £30,000 per contested seat. However, the US’s expansive interpretation of the First Amendment has hindered efforts to impose expenditure limits.

(C) Public Financing:

  • Two Approaches: Public funding can be allocated based on predetermined criteria, like Germany’s system that considers past votes, membership fees, and private donations. Alternatively, democracy vouchers, as seen in Seattle, USA, allow voters to allocate public funds to candidates of their choice.
  • Challenge: Public funding may complement private donations but does not fully address the task of regulating private money.

(D) Disclosure Requirements:

  • Balancing Transparency and Anonymity: Disclosure nudges voters away from electing politicians involved in quid pro quo arrangements. However, mandatory disclosure isn’t always desirable, as it may deter donations by exposing donors to retaliation.
  • Anonymity’s Role: Anonymity can protect donors from retribution or extortion. Striking a balance between transparency and anonymity is a challenge faced by many jurisdictions.

Chilean Experiment: Complete Anonymity?

  • Chile’s “Reserved Contributions”: Chile’s system aimed at “complete anonymity” allowed donors to contribute to political parties via the Electoral Service, which forwarded the sum without revealing the donor’s identity.
  • Coordination Challenges: Despite the intent for complete anonymity, coordination between donors and parties compromised the system’s efficacy.

Balancing Transparency and Anonymity in Political Finance

  • An Effective Approach: Many jurisdictions strike a balance by allowing anonymity for small donors while mandating disclosure for large donations.
  • Examples: In the UK, political parties must report donations exceeding £7,500 in a year, while the US and Germany set limits at $200 and €10,000, respectively.
  • Rationale: Small donors typically have less influence and are more vulnerable to partisan victimization, while large donors may engage in quid pro quo arrangements.

Challenges in India’s Framework

  • Lack of Donation Limits: India has no limits on individual or corporate contributions, and the 2017 Finance Act removed official contribution limits.
  • Expenditure Limits: Parties can spend freely, albeit not on individual candidates.
  • Disclosure Requirements: Parties are only obligated to disclose donations exceeding ₹20,000, creating a loophole as they split large donations into smaller amounts.
  • Electoral Bonds: Since 2017, electoral bonds have allowed large donors to hide their contributions.

Changing Dynamics in Indian Politics

  • Involvement of Third Parties: India has witnessed a surge in the engagement of political consultancies, campaign groups, and civil society organizations in political campaigns, mirroring trends seen in the US.
  • Need for Rethinking: The evolving political landscape necessitates a reevaluation of India’s 20th-century political funding framework.


  • Crafting a campaign finance framework requires an astute understanding of a nation’s political system and its nuances.
  • By adapting strategies that regulate donations, impose expenditure limits, facilitate public financing, and balance transparency with anonymity, countries like India can ensure that their campaign finance frameworks evolve to meet the challenges of the modern political landscape.

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