In light of the effect that politics has on government policies, Jayna Kothari and Aparna Ravi recommend that political parties be classified as ‘public authorities’ so as to be brought within the purview of the RTI Act. They contend that this would ensure information disclosure on the status and mode of their financing in an accurate manner. In turn, this will ensure greater transparency when wealthy individuals and large industry members make political contributions with the aim of influencing policy making in their favour.
In a rare show of unity, all political parties have vehemently opposed bringing themselves under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. In a pending petition in the Supreme Court filed by the Association for Democratic Reforms seeking to bring parties under the ambit of the RTI Act, the Central government has filed an affidavit opposing it. The main reasons stated are that scrutiny by the Act would hamper the parties’ smooth functioning, exploited by their rivals and that they are in any case required to disclose their donations under other laws.
The debate on transparency in funding of political parties is not new, but has emerged globally. The UN Convention Against Corruption, which India has ratified, in Article 7 requires governments to consider taking appropriate legislative and administrative steps to enhance transparency in the funding of candidatures for elected public office and the funding of parties. In the US, federal and state campaign finance laws require parties to file detailed periodic reports of all contributions they receive and identify the source of any contribution above a given threshold. The election commission’s website publishes the information. Kenya’s Political Parties Act, 2011, mandates that parties should publish their accounts and complete sources of donations in two newspapers annually and any person would be entitled to inspect a party’s audited accounts. In South Africa, a similar petition is pending in the constitutional court asking for a legislation to be enacted for disclosure of private funding to political parties.