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Summary

In Austria, political parties receive public funding to participate in the formation of a “political will.” The amount of the subsidy depends on the number of people eligible to vote in the last relevant elections and the number of votes cast for the party. The Federal Political Parties Act 2012 imposes a spending limit of €7 million for campaign expenses on political parties. Donations may generally be accepted without limitations. Four Austrian provinces have enacted stricter rules with regard to donations. There are no specific provisions dealing with media access or airtime for political parties in federal laws. In its general terms and conditions, the Austrian Broadcasting Company (ORF) commits itself to providing equal access and pricing to political parties during their campaigns on the ORF website and in the teletext.

I. General Overview

Sections 1 and 2 of Austria’s Federal Political Parties Act 2012[1] define the terms “political party,” “campaign expenses,” “donation,” “sponsorship,” and “advertisement.” These provisions were awarded constitutional status in order to ensure a uniform application across Austria and to guarantee equal opportunities for all political parties.[2] A “political party” is defined as “a permanently organised association which, through common activities, aims at comprehensively influencing the national decision-making process, in particular by participating in elections for general representative bodies and the European Parliament, and whose constitution has been deposited with the Federal Ministry of the Interior.”[3]

The Political Parties Act 2012 applies countrywide, but it only provides a general framework. The specific measures to implement the general framework are left to the nine Austrian provinces (Länder).[4]

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II. Public Funding of Political Parties

A.  Federal Level

1. Political Parties Act 2012

The Political Parties Act 2012 sets out the general framework for public funding of political parties in Austria. It provides in section 3, which also has constitutional status, that the federation, the provinces, and the municipalities can grant subsidies to political parties for their participation in the formation of a common “political will.” The subsidies can range from €3.10 to €11 per person eligible to vote in  the  last  elections  for  the  relevant  general representative body.

2. Support of Political Parties Act 2012

The exact implementation of the funding of political parties at the federal level is codified in the Support of Political Parties Act 2012.[5] It provides that political parties that are currently not represented in the National Council[6] but which received more than 1% of the valid votes in the last elections as well as political parties represented in the National Council are entitled to annual subsidies.[7] Newly formed parties that are campaigning for the National Council are not eligible to receive subsidies.

The subsidies for political parties currently not represented are calculated by multiplying each vote cast for them in the last National Council elections by €2.50.[8]

Political parties currently represented with at least five members in the National Council receive a basic subsidy of €218,000 (about US$237,000).[9] The remaining public funds are distributed among the parties represented in the National Council pro rata to the votes cast for them in the last National Council elections.[10] The total available federal subsidies are calculated by multiplying the number of persons eligible to vote in the last National Council elections by an amount of €4.60.[11]

There are special provisions for political parties represented in the European Parliament. Upon request following the elections, these political parties are granted an additional one-time federal subsidy, which is calculated by multiplying the number of persons eligible to vote in the relevant election for the European Parliament by €2.[12] The subsidies are allocated pro rata to the votes cast  for  them  in  the  European  Parliament  elections.[13] Subsidies  may  not   exceed campaign expenses.[14]

B.  Provincial Laws

With regard to public funding of political parties, the Federal Political Parties Act 2012 allows the provinces to grant subsidies that are twice the lower and upper limit of section 3 in order to ensure participation in the formation of political will at the district and municipal levels.[15] Most provinces chose a number around €11 with the exception of Upper Austria, which multiplies the number of persons eligible to vote by €17.48 in order to calculate the subsidy.[16]

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III. Spending Limits

A.  Federal Level

Section 4 of the Political Parties Act 2012 deals with campaign expenses. Campaign expenses are defined as “expenses incurred by a political party or a campaigning party that is not a political party specifically for the election campaign for a general representative body or the European Parliament from the qualifying date for the election to the day of the election.” Section 4, paragraph 2 of the Political Parties Act 2012 identifies in a nonexhaustive list several expenses that can be classified as campaign expenses.

Section 4, paragraph 1 of the Political Parties Act 2012 mandates that the spending for every political party for election campaigning between the qualifying date for the election and the day of the election for a general representative body or the European Parliament may not exceed €7 million (around US$7.6 million). The amount an individual candidate spends generally counts towards the party limit, except for if the sum does not exceed €15,000 (around US$16,300).[17] The maximum amount an individual candidate may spend is therefore also capped at €7 million.

The spending limit of €7 million also applies to candidates campaigning for the office of Federal President of Austria.[18]

B. Povincial Level

In general, the Austrian provinces apply the spending limit established in the Federal Political Parties Act 2012. As an exception, section 5 of the Carinthia Support of Political Parties Act 2013[19] provides that each campaigning party may only spend a maximum of €500,000 on campaign advertisements for the provincial elections between the qualifying date for the election and the day of the election. The amount an individual candidate spends counts towards the party limit unless the sum does not exceed €2,500 (around US$2,700). The lower limit of €2,500 applies to a maximum of thirty-six candidates. Furthermore, each political party must submit a detailed report on campaign expenses certified by an independent accountant to the government of Carinthia three months after the election date.[20]

In Vienna, the law states that a political party or a campaigning party may not spend more than €6 million (around US$6.5 million) on campaign expenses for provincial and local elections.[21]

A political party from the province of Carinthia filed a lawsuit challenging the Carinthian provision, alleging that the spending limit violated section 1, paragraph 3 of the Federal Political Parties Act 2012, which states that the activities of political parties shall not be subject to any restrictions by particular legal provisions. The Constitutional Court of Austria (Verfassungsgerichtshof, VfGH) held that the provinces were allowed to enact restrictions on campaign expenses for provincial and local elections.[22] According to the Court, the last sentence of section 3 of the Federal Act on Political Parties, which deals with subsidies for federal elections, implies that the provincial governments may regulate subsidies for political parties on a provincial level.[23] The Court concluded that the spending limit of €500,000 for campaign advertisements enacted by the provincial government of Carinthia was a valid requirement for receiving provincial subsidies and did not violate the constitutional guarantees of diversity of political parties,[24] free elections,[25] or freedom of expression.[26]

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IV. Donations

A. Federal Level

Section 6, paragraph 1 of the Political Parties Act 2012 provides that a political party may generally accept donations without a limit. A donation is defined as

any payment, benefit in kind or living subsidy that natural or legal persons grant to a political party, or a campaigning party that is not a political party, or a branch of a political party with its own legal personality, or an affiliated organization . . . , or members of parliament who stood for elections on a list of candidates submitted by a political party, or candidates who stood for elections on a list of candidates submitted by a political party, without corresponding consideration.

Paragraph 2 lists accounting requirements for donations. Donations must be filed in an annex to the annual general statement of accounts,[27] which must be submitted by the political party to the Federal Court of Audits. Furthermore, donations from one source exceeding €3,500 (around US$3,800) in a single calendar year must be listed separately with the name and address of the donor.[28] Donations exceeding €50,000 (around US$54,355) must be reported immediately to the Court of Audits, which will publish the amount as well as the name and address of the donor on its website.[29]

Paragraph 6 contains a list of sources from which a political party may not accept donations. They include, among others, parliamentary groups, undertakings and institutions in which the public sector holds a share of at least 25%, foreign natural or legal persons if the donation exceeds €2,500, natural or legal persons if the donation is in cash and exceeds €2,500, anonymous donations over €1,000, natural or legal persons who clearly want to forward a donation by an unnamed third party if the donation exceeds €1,000, and natural or legal persons who clearly donate in expectation of or in return for a certain commercial or legal advantage.

The general permission to accept donations as well as the prohibitions on donations from certain sources also apply to candidates running for the office of Federal President.[30]

B.  Provincial Level

The Political Parties Act 2012 explicitly states that the provinces may enact stricter rules on donations, sponsorships and advertisements than provided for in the Federal Act.[31] The provinces of Salzburg, Tyrol, Vienna, and Vorarlberg have taken advantage of this option.

In Salzburg, donations of between €500 and €3,500 must be captured on a separate list with the name and address of the donor. The donor list must be submitted to the Provincial Court of Audits by September 30 of the following year.[32]

In Tyrol, donations that exceed €1,000 must be listed separately in the account submitted to the Federal Court of Audits and include the name and the address of the donor. Furthermore, every donation over €15,000 must be reported to the Court of Audits immediately with the name and address of the donor. Donations from foreign natural or legal persons or cash donations from natural or legal persons may not exceed €1,000.[33]

The Vienna law provides that donations that exceed €3,000 must be listed separately and include the name and address of the donor, whereas donations exceeding €30,000 must be reported to the Federal Court of Audits immediately, which will publish the information on its website.[34]

Finally, in the province of Vorarlberg, political parties are prohibited from accepting anonymous donations and donations that are clearly forwarded for an anonymous third party no matter the amount.[35] Donations over €1,000 must be declared separately in the accounting report with the name and address of the donor.[36]

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V. Media Access

The most relevant federal act for access to media in Austria is the Federal Act on the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation (Österreichischer Rundfunk, ORF).[37] The Act does not contain specific provisions about media access or airtime for political parties for the time they are campaigning. Section 4 generally provides that the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation has to remain impartial and adhere to the principle of objectivity. There is also no explicit prohibition on political or campaign advertisements in the law. Section 13 generally states that the ORF may sell airtime for commercial advertisements.

In order to comply with its mandate to remain objective, the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation provides in its general terms and conditions that it will offer political parties and campaigning parties identical access and pricing for campaign advertisements on its website and in the teletext during the time they  are  campaigning.[38] There  are  no  similar  provisions  for  TV  or radio advertisements.

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Prepared by Jenny Gesley
Foreign Law Specialist
March 2016


[1] Bundesgesetz über die Finanzierung politischer Parteien [Parteiengesetz 2012] [PartG] [Federal Act on the Financing of Political Parties] [Political Parties Act 2012], BUNDESGESETZBLATT [BGBL.] [FEDERAL LAW GAZETTE] I No. 56/2012, https://www.ris.bka.gv.at/GeltendeFassung/Bundesnormen/20007889/PartG%2c%20Fassung%20vom%2025.02.2016.pdf, archived at http://perma.cc/R2XJ-FXBG, English translation available at https://www.ris.bka.gv.at/Dokumente/Erv/ERV_2012_1_56/ERV_2012_1_56.pdf, archived at http://perma.cc/8JH7-J2UB.

[2] Bericht des Verfassungsausschusses über die Regierungsvorlage (1782 d.B.): Bundesgesetz über die Finanzierung politischer Parteien (Parteiengesetz 2012 - PartG) [Report of the Constitutional Committee on the Government Bill (1782 d.B.): Federal Act on the Financing of Political Parties (Political Parties Act 2012)], Beilagen zu den Stenographischen Protokollen des Nationalrates [BlgNR] [Supplement to the Verbatim Records of the National Council] No. 1844, Gesetzgebungsperiode [GP] [Legislative Period] 24, at 1, https://www.parlament.gv.at/ PAKT/VHG/XXIV/I/I_01844/fname_257152.pdf, archived at http://perma.cc/C2NL-Y5LV.

[3] Political Parties Act 2012, § 1, para. 2.

[4] Burgenländisches Parteien-Förderungsgesetz 2012 [Burgenland Support of Political Parties Act 2012], LANDESGESETZBLATT [LGBL.] FÜR DAS BURGENLAND [BURGENLAND PROVINCIAL LAW GAZETTE] No. 47/2012, https://www.ris.bka.gv.at/GeltendeFassung/LrBgld/20000914/Bgld.%20PaF%c3%b6G%202012%2c%20Fassung%20vom%2001.03.
2016.pdf
, archived at http://perma.cc/KN4A-VC74; Niederösterreichisches Parteienfinanzierungsgesetz [Lower Austrian Political Parties Financing Act], LGBL. Niederösterreich No.  101/2012, https://www.ris.bka.gv.at/GeltendeFassung/LrNO/20000010/N%c3%96%20Parteienfinanzierungsgesetz%202012%2c%20
Fassung%20vom%2029.02.2016.pdf,
archived at http://perma.cc/E4EA-DEJT; Salzburger Parteienförderungsgesetz [Salzburg Support of Political Parties Act], LGBL. Salzburg No. 2/1985, https://www.ris.bka.gv.at/GeltendeFassung/LrSbg/10000389/S.Partf%c3%b6rdG%2c%20Fassung%20vom%2029.02.2016.pdf, archived at http://perma.cc/RP6E-S5WW; Steiermärkisches Parteienförderungs-Verfassungsgesetz [Styrian Support of Political Parties Constitutional Act], LGBL. Steiermark No. 6/2013, https://www.ris.bka.gv.at/GeltendeFassung/LrStmk/20000209/StPF%c3%b6LVG%2c%20Fassung%20vom%2029.02.2016.pdf,     archived     at http://perma.cc/E8XX-2TK2; Tiroler Parteienfinanzierungs- und Klubförderungsgesetz 2012 [Tyrolean Political Parties Financing and Support of Parliamentary Groups Act 2012], LGBL. Tirol No. 151/2012, https://www.ris.bka.gv.at/GeltendeFassung/LrT/20000529/Tiroler%20Parteienfinanzierungs-%20und%20Klubf%c3%b6rderungsgesetz%202012%2c%20Fassung%20vom%2029.02.2016.pdf, archived athttp://perma.cc/BT2G-RMVC; Oberösterreichisches Parteienfinanzierungsgesetz [Upper Austrian Political Parties Financing Act], LGBL. Oberösterreich No. 25/1992, https://www.ris.bka.gv.at/GeltendeFassung/LrOO/10000340/O%c3%b6.%20Parteienfinanzierungsgesetz%202016%2c%20Fassung%20
vom%2029.02.2016.pdf,    
archived    at http://perma.cc/X387-VCYK; Wiener Parteienförderungsgesetz 2013 [Vienna Support of Political Parties Act   2013], LGBL. Wien No. 86/2012, https://www.ris.bka.gv.at/GeltendeFassung/LrW/20000317/Wr.%20PartFG%2c%20Fassung%20vom%2029.02.2016.pdf, archived at http://perma.cc/6S7J-ETE6; Vorarlberger Parteienförderungsgesetz [Vorarlberg Support of Political Parties Act], LGBL. Vorarlberg No. 52/2012, https://www.ris.bka.gv.at/GeltendeFassung/LrVbg/20000031/PFG%2c%20Fassung%20vom%2029.02.2016.pdf, archived at http://perma.cc/4YZV-5KKS; Kärntner Parteienförderungsgesetz [Carinthia Support of Political Parties Act 2013], LGBL. Kärnten No. 57/2013, https://www.ris.bka.gv.at/GeltendeFassung/LrK/10000130/K-PFG%2c%20Fassung%20vom%2029.02.2016.pdf, archived at http://perma.cc/7BND-A26D.

[5] Bundesgesetz über Förderungen des Bundes für politische Parteien [Parteien-Förderungsgesetz 2012] [PartFörG] [Federal Act on Federal Support of Political Parties] [Support of Political Parties Act 2012], BGBL. I No. 57/2012, https://www.ris.bka.gv.at/GeltendeFassung/Bundesnormen/20007891/PartF%c3%b6rG%2c%20Fassung%20vom% 2025.02.2016.pdf, archived at http://perma.cc/T2D2-U6HQ, English translation available at http://legislationline.org/download/action/download/id/4490/file/Austria_Political_Parties_Act_2012_en.pdf, archived at http://perma.cc/3L46-CMZB.

[6] The National Council is the lower house of the Austrian Parliament.

[7] Support of Political Parties Act 2012, § 1, paras. 2, 3.

[8] Id. § 1, para. 3.

[9] Id. § 1, para. 2, no. 2.

[10] Id. § 1, para. 2, no. 1.

[11] Id. § 1, para. 2.

[12] Id. § 2, para. 2.

[13] Id. § 2, para. 3.

[14] Id. § 2, para. 4.

[51] Political Parties Act 2012, § 3, sentence 3.

[16] Upper Austrian Political Parties Financing Act, § 4, para. 1.

[17] Id. § 4, para. 1, sentence 3.

[18] Bundespräsidentenwahlgesetz 1971[BPräsWG] [Federal President Elections Act 1971], BGBL. No. 57/1971, § 24a, para. 1, https://www.ris.bka.gv.at/GeltendeFassung/Bundesnormen/10000494/BPr%c3%a4sWG%2c%20Fassung%20vom%2002.03.2016.pdf, archived at http://perma.cc/7NVQ-QKD3.

[19] Carinthia Support of Political Parties Act 2013, § 5, para. 1.

[20] Id. § 5, para. 3.

[21] Vienna Support of Political Parties Act 2013, § 7, para. 1.

[22] Verfassungsgerichtshof [VfGH] [Constitutional Court of Austria], Mar. 11, 2014 Sammlung der Erkenntnisse und wichtigsten Beschlüsse des Verfassungsgerichtshofes [VfSlg] No. 19860/2014, https://www.ris.bka.gv.at/Dokumente/Vfgh/JFT_20140311_13B01302_00/JFT_20140311_13B01302_00.pdf,    archived at http://perma.cc/YB9S-Q34D.

[23] VFGH, VFSLG No. 19860/2014, para. 2.1.4.

[24] Id. para. 4.3.1.

[25] Id.

[26] Id. para. 4.4.2.

[27] Political Parties Act 2012, § 5.

[28] Id. § 6, para. 4.

[29] Id. § 6, para. 5.

[30] Federal President Elections Act 1971, § 24a, paras. 2–5.

[31] Political Parties Act 2012, §§ 6, para. 10 & 7, para. 4.

[32] Salzburg Support of Political Parties Act § 6.

[33] Tyrolean Political Parties Financing and Support of Parliamentary Groups Act 2012, § 4.

[34] Vienna Support of Political Parties Act 2013, § 8.

[35] Vorarlberg Support of Political Parties Act. § 10, para. 1(b).

[36] Id. § 10, para. 2(c).

[37] Bundesgesetz über den Österreichischen Rundfunk [ORF-Gesetz] [ORF-G] [Federal Act on the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation], BGBL. I No. 194/1999, https://www.ris.bka.gv.at/GeltendeFassung/Bundesnormen/10000785/ORF-G%2c%20Fassung%20vom%2002.03.2016.pdf, archived at http://perma.cc/ND38-DLBV.

[38] ORF, Allgemeine Geschäftsbedingungen ORF.at & ORF teletext – Rahmenbedingungen für politische Werbung [General Terms and Conditions ORF.at & teletext – Framework Conditions for Political Advertisements], Jan. 1, 2015, at 2, http://enterprise.orf.at/typo3conf/ext/up_downloadcluster/pi1/downloadfile.php?filename=ORF_E_AGB_ORFat_Teletext-RfpW_2015_NEU.pdf, archived at http://perma.cc/KB2W-GVWJ.

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Last Updated: 05/19/2016