Campaign financing: Malawi vs the United States of America

As the race for the White House gets hotter we reflect on the campaign financing aspect. America has a law regulating campaign finance and it is enforced by the Federal Election Commission (FEC). The law requires candidates and party committees to file periodic reports disclosing the money they raise and spend. The funds come in three forms:

  • Primary Matching Funds: Candidates seeking their party’s nomination can qualify to receive matching funds by raising at least $5,000 in each of 20 states. Only contributions from individuals, and only contributions up to $250, are matchable. Primary election candidates must agree to an overall spending limit and spending limits in each state. By refusing matching funds, candidates are free to spend as much money as they can raise privately. Once the Commission determines that a candidate has met the eligibility criteria, the candidate may submit evidence of contributions from individuals for matching. The Commission’s audit staff reviews these submissions to determine whether the requests meet the standards for matchability.
  • Nominating Convention Funding: Each major political party is entitled to some funding to finance its national Presidential nominating convention. A qualified minor party may become eligible for partial convention funding based on its Presidential candidate's share of the popular vote in the preceding election. A party convention committee may not spend more than the amount to which the party is entitled. Contributions may be accepted, however, for a special account maintained exclusively to pay for legal and accounting expenses associated with complying with the campaign finance law. Contributions to this account count against the donor's annual limit for the Party. However, certain supplemental services may also be provided by the host state and city governments and by local groups such as businesses and labor unions. For example businesses may sell or rent chairs, podiums, tables or other equipment to the convention committee at discount rates.
  • General Election Funding: The Presidential nominee of each major party (Republicans and Democrats) may become eligible for a public grant for campaigning in the general election. To receive the public funds, the candidate must limit spending to the amount of the grant and may not accept private contributions for the campaign. Private contributions may, however, be accepted for a special account maintained exclusively to pay for legal and accounting expenses associated with complying with the campaign finance law. These legal and accounting expenses are not subject to the expenditure limit. Minor party candidates may become eligible for partial public funding if their party received between 5 and 25 percent of the popular vote in the preceding election.

It is worth noting that no major party nominee turned down government funds for the general election from 1976, when the program was launched, until Barack Obama did so in 2008. Obama again declined government funds for the 2012 campaign.

In Malawi there is no law regulating campaign finance neither does the Malawi Electoral Commission have the powers to monitor or regulate campaign expenditures. Parties are not obliged to provide declare public their sources of finance.

Also in Malawi political parties do not get public funding for campaign activities. The only funding political parties get comes from Parliament if they get 10 percent of the total vote in a general election. This money is for their sustenance in the lifetime of the Parliament. There is a draft law on campaign finance that has been championed by Centre for Multiparty Democracy (CMD). The electoral reform process has also proposed for regulating campaign funding. We will look at the draft law by CMD next week.