Party campaigns: Where does their money come from?

Published: April 8, 2012

If a political party is getting donations, they should have the decency to explicitly inform the public about the amount donated and its source. PHOTO: REUTERS

Nearly all of us spend hours debating what our country needs, and almost every time we end up with the same list of priorities; education, eradication of corruption, job opportunities and other such basics.

While I do agree that we require the above mentioned things, I also think that there is something else that we need on an urgent basis in our political system and which no one seems to be talking about it; campaign finance reforms. Even though it is the giant elephant in the room, I find it surprising that I have never come across a single discussion on it.

For those of you who are not familiar with the idea of campaign finance, let me try and explain it in the simplest of terms.

Every politician and political party that runs for elections does so by running a campaign. It costs money to get elected to parliament or any office for that matter. Candidates often spend hundreds of millions of rupees during election campaigns to improve their chances of getting elected. Political parties spend cash on everything from posters to jalsas (rallies), and yet somehow during all this, the most important questions remain unanswered:

Where did the candidates and political parties  get this much money from? Was there an agenda that was attached to the money? Who financed their public meetings?

Common sense dictates that if money is donated to a political party or an individual candidate, there is something expected from them in return once they come into power. No one in their right mind throws away their money without expecting some kind of pay back; after all politics is not charity work.

This inherently means that even before our politicians get elected, they have agreed to look after the interests of different donors, where as the general public has no idea what they have signed up to support.

All over the world, campaign finance laws dictate that everybody who is contesting for elections needs to categorically spell out who is donating money and make public any agendas. This is necessary to protect the voters who get to see what leanings their candidates have based on the origin of their campaign contributions. In a country like Pakistan, campaign finance laws do exist but are often flaunted or simply ignored.

This is why parties that arrange massive rallies often report just thousands of rupees in their bank accounts and simply state that their donors paid for the gatherings. Technically, this is not correct.

If a political party is getting donations, they should have the decency to explicitly inform the public about the amount and its source. This way we will be assured that the people who are funding our political parties are tax-paying citizens, and not cheats.

Knowing the origin of party donations would also allow people to see the sort of association the party keeps. Are they being backed by established businessmen or the land mafia? All this would become clearer.

In short, we cannot deny the importance of campaign finance reforms. The law is already there and it’s a pretty decent legislation too. The reforms that we need include the following:

  • Before the elections take place, the candidates need to publicly list the persons and businesses financing them. The whole idea of declaring assets becomes useless when politicians are being financed by businessmen and other wealthy individuals. Sometimes, shady characters also turn out to be financiers of party candidates. Hence, it’s a need now to list exactly who is paying what.
  • Political parties need to submit a detailed financial plan for all public meetings that have an audience of more than 2,000 people. In case these meetings are externally funded, names of individuals or organizations need to be listed along with party receipts  acknowledging donations. This detail would need to be made public, otherwise no permission would be granted for future party events. This way we would know how much a large gathering costs and who pays for it.
  • Donors of political parties and candidates that donate more than Rs50,000 need to be registered as official political donors.  This would help the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) to collect taxes from such individuals come tax-collection season, because if a person can donate more than Rs50,000 to politics, they can surely pay taxes.
  • All political parties need to conduct an external audit on a yearly basis, by a firm chosen through a competitive bidding process. Once a firm is chosen, it would be responsible for carrying audits of all parties that have a seat in any assembly. This would ensure that accusations of bias do not come about.
  • Any party or candidate failing to follow the above mentioned guidelines should be barred from running for public office till they submit the required documentation.

Current laws ask for a listing of declared assets of the candidates, when we all clearly know that the money which got them to the assembly was not their personal fortune. The reforms mentioned above are simply the tip of the iceberg and are intended to start a proper discussion on this issue.

It’s no surprise that all political parties are against campaign finance reforms, since a large number of their donors belong to the informal sector of the economy. While they harp about taxes and assets, our politicians know that the implementation of these reforms would seriously damage their financial resources.

It’s about time we become logical and track the individuals who, despite operating in the informal sector, donate heavily to political parties. This way we can know their agendas and also drag them into the tax net.

In essence, we can kill two birds with one stone.

Read more by Adnan here, or follow him on Twitter @adnanrasool.


Adnan Khalid Rasool

Currently the Deputy Executive Director Center for Enterprise, Trade and Development, Adnan is also a political analyst working mainly on electoral politics and political campaign management. He tweets at @adnanrasool

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Ahsan

    PTI has talked time and again about political finance laws and the need to revamp them.

    Let me assure you, it will happenRecommend

  • Tehreek-e-Insaf FATA

    PTI has thousands of paid (and regular donor) members around the world who pay for the party activities. Thats where our strength lies; every effort is volunteer.
    Even in such remote places as Bajaur, Mohmand and Khyber PTI has volunteers like us who work for its cause (for no personal reward at all)Recommend

  • NA

    I am a student abroad with family and I donate 50 dollars every month. I don’t ask for anything it return. There are thousands of other people who donate using the PTI website.Recommend

  • http://- Abid P. Khan

    “PTI has talked time and again about political finance laws and the need to revamp them.

    Let me assure you, it will happen”

    Flying in a private jet to China, Karachi or Davos is non-political. One learns something new everyday.Recommend

  • http://NewYork Falcon

    Few thoughts on your article.
    1. Campaign financing transparency is not just an issue in Pakistan, it is also an issue in U.S. and contrary to your assumption, the laws pertaining to its transparency in US political campaigning have yet to gain traction. So, its not only us alone.
    2. You seem to be making another assumption that parties are mostly funded by heavy donors. That might not be the case always. For example, in case of PTI, they have relied on heavy grass root involvement through small contributions from everyone for the same reason that few donors should not dominate the financing and therefore dictate tomorrow’s party policies.
    3. If indeed reforms are required, they should also focus extensively on fund distribution pattern from party holder accounts because jalsas are still understandable expense, what kills is the vote buy-outs that happen using this money. That is the part that can end up significantly skewing results in some constituencies. I know few people who have been involved in buying votes for their parties (related to the two big parties).Recommend

  • Nasir Ahmad

    I am a PPP Donor ! 50,000 Pounds each year from the business community in UKRecommend

  • Yousaf Javed

    There are political financial laws within the PPP! I have met their Finance Secretary and PPP is a very organised political party in Pakistan. I think it is better than any politcal party in Pakistan. Unlike PML N and PTI who are known for stealing electricity in their Jalsas.Recommend

  • Ahsan Chawla

    Do you realise if any party reveals the names of individuals who donate to their campaigns or jalsas,it’s as good as marking an x on their head for the infamous target killers? It would be suicidal.Recommend

  • Tauseef Jamal

    Accountability is an alien world on every level in this country, but still I think its a serious and very important discussion and much thanks for bringing this up. Thumbs up!Recommend

  • Ahsan

    @Yousaf Javed:

    And unlike PPP…okay I dont need to claim anything – the state of the country’s population is evidence enough.Recommend

  • MarkH

    @Ahsan Chawla:
    Then maybe they’ll finally look into making the target killings stop.Recommend

  • syeda soobia fatima

    I favour this whole idea of compaign finance legislation because if a party is relying on corrupt and tax evading people to run its electoral campaign than it is going to do nothing serious about the corruption ad the issue of tax evasion, which need to be addressed with all seriousness and sincereity. Plus we often hear of polticians accepting large cache of money from notorious establishment ( e.g. Asghan Khan’s petition) to make sure anti -establishment party does not come to power. So campaign finance laws should be formulated and implemented to let the democracy flourish in ours country and to check the unchecked power of establishment.Recommend

  • Super pak

    @Abid P. Khan:
    Yes one should travel in a ghada gari if they really want to connectRecommend

  • Super pak

    @Nasir Ahmad:
    50000 pounds wow, that money would be better used if flushed down the toilet.Recommend

  • KKK

    No party/organisation in the world declares the names of their donors (unless the donor wants to this himself) because that makes them susceptible to being targeted by rival groups. What are you talking about?

    The right thing will be to check if money was being spent from government treasuries. For example, PMLn rally cum laptop distribution campaign is totally done under tax payers money. Considering how the Sharif brothers heavily politicise their talks, is that fair?Recommend

  • other side of the picture

    @Nasir Ahmad:
    shame on you then !!!!Recommend

  • Tauseef Jamal

    @Tauseef Jamal:
    CORRECTION PLEASE: Accountability is an alien word…not WORLD :) apologies. Recommend

  • adeel

    Its responsibility of ECP and FBR.

    Further, the inflation is doubled/trippled and allowed expense on campaign is still 15 lac so it need to be revised.Recommend

  • Ammar

    @Super pak:

    you mean in Tsunami :DRecommend

  • Zoaib

    @Abid P. Khan

    IK did NOT travel to China or to Davos on a private jet, but on normal commercial airline. This was a rumour spread by propagandists. For the China visit there is a video available if you want to confirm yourself. As for Karachi visit, he went there along with Jahangir Tareen (who has own cessna out of his personal earnings and had to go there anyway, so no extra fuel cost(s)). I don’t see why anyone would have a problem with that…Recommend

  • Zoaib

    With regards to campaign financing, Imran Khan (of PTI) has hinted multiple times on the establishment of a dedicated campaign fund during the election campaign (similar to Obama’s small donations campaign) so that PTI can afford to fund the campaigns of its candidates with the support of common Pakistanis, rather than relying on a few high-profile individuals. Also, even at this time, PTI party offices are being run through the help of around 5000 overseas paid members who pay through the website…So I feel there are indications of change in some political parties…Recommend

  • http://- Abid P. Khan


    “IK did NOT travel to China or to Davos on a private jet, but on normal commercial airline. This was a rumour spread by propagandists. “

    I have yet to see parties taking any legal steps against these “propagandists” or documents declaring that boarding, lodging and participation fee was waived at Davos.

    I have access to the Internet only and not to any party archives. On the Internet your cricket hero keeps denying fatherhood of his love child Tyrian and attacking members of other parties with his racist remarks. Then laughs at them. Was it just work of propagandists? You would know better.

    In a democracy politicians are voted by the citizen and are answerable to them.
    If democracy has a special definition for Burki tribes of FATA, is a different matter all together.

    Kitchens tend to be hot places.Recommend

  • tayeb

    PTI has lot of resources like Gold Smith family,Agency family,and zardari paid7 million )as Salim Safi has proof) in Lahore julsa and Imran Niazi paying billions and play JUWA(as he mentioned in his book) to run the party.

    All the Jadeerdars,Political mafias,dons Lagari family,Hashmi,Qurashi,Treen,Bashi Khan Pindi( juwari) Faiz Taman,Azam Swati who spent 50 caror when become senator.and on hte other hand Imran giving application to punjab gov.that he is poor and having house please give me house.

    The man who lived his full life in night clubs,getting married outside pakistan even disobeying his mother request.Princes of Bani Galla live with Musharaff dog in billions palace.Recommend