Funding and Disclosure Report - Election 1998: Part 3 Election Disclosure Returns

Updated: 6 January 2011

Disclosure of Donations and Expenditure by Candidates and Senate groups

Disclosure of Donations Received

3.1 All House of Representatives and Senate candidates along with jointly endorsed and unendorsed Senate groups must disclose election donations received. Where a candidate receives donations from a single person or organisation totalling $200 or more, the candidate must disclose the name and address of that donor and the date and value of each donation received. Senate groups have the same disclosure obligation, however, the threshold at which detailed disclosure is required is set at $1 000.

3.2 Candidates who had stood previously in a federal election (within 4 years for the House of Representatives and 7 years for the Senate), whether or not they were elected, must disclose donations received from the 31st day after the polling day in that prior election until the 30th day after polling day in this election. For other candidates the disclosure period commences from the date they announced their candidacy, which for endorsed candidates is usually the date of pre-selection. The disclosure period for Senate groups commences from the date of applying to be grouped on the ballot paper.

Disclosure of Electoral Expenditure

3.3 House of Representatives and ungrouped Senate candidates, as well as jointly endorsed and unendorsed Senate groups, must disclose expenditures incurred on campaign goods or services used from the issue of the writ until the close of polling. Disclosure is restricted to the following categories:

  1. broadcasting advertisements (including production costs);
  2. publishing advertisements (including production costs);
  3. displaying advertisements at a place of entertainment (including production costs);
  4. campaign material where the name and address for the author is required (e.g. how-to-vote cards, pamphlets, posters);
  5. direct mailing; and
  6. opinion polling or other research relating to the election.

Only totals of expenditure under each category are disclosed. No disclosure is required of the persons and organisations to whom those payments are made.

Receipt of Returns

3.4 Donations received and expenditure incurred by the campaign committees of endorsed candidates are deemed by the Act to be transactions of the party, not the candidate. This deeming provision, along with the centralised nature of much campaigning, sees most endorsed candidates submit 'nil' returns. (The disclosures of political parties which cover the 1998 federal election and the Newcastle supplementary election did not go on public display until 1 February 2000.) The only problems usually encountered in obtaining returns by the due date of 15 weeks after polling day arise with some independent and smaller party candidates.

Disclosures by Third Parties

3.5 The term 'third party' refers to persons or organisations, who are under an obligation to lodge a disclosure return because of indirect involvement in a federal election. Third parties are separate from registered political parties, candidates, Senate groups, associated entities, broadcasters or publishers.

Disclosure of Donations Made

3.6 Third parties disclose donations totalling $200 or more made to an individual candidate. This disclosure threshold parallels that for candidates when disclosing donations received. The apparent doubling up of disclosure of donations to candidates is necessary because of the donors' additional obligation to disclose the sources of their funds in certain circumstances (see paragraph 3.9 below).

3.7 However, there is an anomaly in the legislation in that disclosure is not required by donors to Senate groups that have either been jointly endorsed or are unendorsed. To ensure complete disclosure at elections, these donors should also be required to lodge donor returns and to disclose any donations they received that assisted them in making their donations. This would result in consistent treatment with donors to candidates.

Recommendation 1
Require disclosure by donors who have made donations of $1 000 or more to Senate groups the members of which have not all been endorsed by the one registered political party and disclosure by those donors of any donations they received of $1 000 or more which they used, in whole or in part, to incur expenditure for a political purpose.

Disclosure of Electoral Expenditure

3.8 Where third parties have incurred electoral expenditure totalling $200 or more they are required to lodge a return. Disclosure is limited to the same time period and six categories of expenditure set out for candidates and Senate groups in paragraph 3.3 above. Most often these disclosures are required as a result of an organisation or lobby group undertaking an independent advertising campaign on an election issue during the disclosure period.

Disclosure of Donations Received

3.9 Third parties are also required to disclose donations totalling $1 000 or more received from a single person or organisation which were then used to incur at least $1 000 of 'expenditure for a political purpose'. Expenditure for a political purpose can be incurred anytime from the 31st day after the previous federal election to 30 days after polling day for the current election and is defined as:

  1. broadcasting or publishing, by any means, matter which is intended or likely to affect voting in an election;
  2. publicly expressing views, by any means, on an issue in an election;
  3. making a donation to a branch of a registered political party;
  4. making a donation to a candidate or Senate group; or
  5. making a donation to a person on the understanding that it will be used, in whole or in part, in funding any activities listed above.

Expenditure for a political purpose is not itself disclosed, although there is some overlap with other disclosures required by the Act. Its function is only as a trigger for the disclosure of donations received that were then used to incur such expenditure.

3.10 The different definitions for expenditure for a political purpose (which is not disclosed) and electoral expenditure (which is disclosed) create confusion for third parties and unnecessarily complicate the task of disclosure. The disclosure of donations received could be greatly simplified if it were matched to the disclosures already required by third parties of their election expenditures and donations made to candidates and Senate groups.

3.11 To ensure the true source of those donations is always disclosed, the requirement to disclose donations received where the electoral expenditure or donation made was indirect must be retained.

Recommendation 2
Amend the requirement for a third party to lodge a return of donations received to instances where those donations were used in whole or in part on electoral expenditure or donations made which are required to be disclosed by the third party for that same election.

Receipt of Returns

3.12 As third parties are identified, they are sent an explanatory handbook by the AEC along with copies of all three election disclosure returns to help make the process as easy as possible. While most third parties remain unaware of their disclosure responsibilities, once advised most cooperate by lodging their returns within the statutory deadline of 15 weeks after polling day. For the October federal election this deadline was 30 November 1998 and for the Newcastle supplementary election it was 18 January 1999.

3.13 The only complication is with third party donors as they are mostly identified from candidates' disclosure returns. Because candidates have the same lodgement date for their returns, when they lodge close to that deadline the AEC is unable to advise donors of their disclosure obligation in time for them to meet the statutory deadline leaving them, technically, in breach of the Act.

Disclosure of Electoral Advertisements by Broadcasters and Publishers

Disclosure

3.14 Broadcasters are required to disclose certain details of electoral advertisements placed with them over the period from the issue of the writ until the close of polling. Publishers must also disclose electoral advertisements but only where the total charged exceeded $1 000. Details required to be disclosed for each advertisement include who placed the advertisement and on whose behalf, when and where it was broadcast or published, the charge and whether that charge was made in line with normal commercial rates.

Receipt of Returns

3.15 Broadcaster and publisher returns must be lodged within eight weeks following polling day. The deadline for lodgement of returns for the October federal election was 30 November 1998 and for the Newcastle supplementary election it was 18 January 1999.

3.16 The 1996 Report discussed the fact that broadcaster and publisher returns are rarely ever inspected once placed on the public record. Following the release of the 1998 election returns there was not one request to inspect these returns. The AEC likewise makes little use of the information contained in these returns.

3.17 The AEC sees no justification in the continuation of this administrative and financial imposition upon broadcasters and publishers. Just as the election disclosure requirement that originally existed for printers was found to be redundant and therefore abolished, the election and referendum disclosure obligations for broadcasters and publishers should also be repealed. Donations by broadcasters and publishers, including instances where favourable advertising rates were charged, would of course continue to be subject to the general disclosure requirements.

Recommendation 3
Abolish the requirement for broadcasters and publishers to lodge disclosure returns following an election or referendum.