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The financing of political parties and political campaigns in France has become increasingly regulated since 1988. French political parties have access to two sources of financing: private financing and government subsidies. Private financing includes private donations and party membership dues, as well as the proceeds of commercial activities. Only natural persons can make contributions to a political party or group, and it is illegal for a corporate or nonprofit entity to do so. Donations to political parties are capped at €7,500 per year, and only French citizens, or persons residing in France, may contribute to a political party or group. Political parties and coalitions also depend heavily on government subsidies as a means of financing. Subsidies are allocated based on each party’s results at the previous parliamentary elections, and on the basis of each party’s share of seats in Parliament. Every party must appoint a representative or organization to be responsible for collecting funds and depositing them in a single bank account.

Electoral campaigns are bound by similar rules. Every candidate must appoint a financial representative through which all the campaign’s funds and expenditures must go. A candidate may receive donations only from natural persons, political parties, or political coalitions, not from corporate and nonprofit entities. Only French citizens or persons residing in France may make contributions to an electoral campaign. Furthermore, there is a cap on how much candidates may spend on their campaigns. All candidates who obtained at least 5% of the votes in the first round of elections may be eligible to have up to 47.5% of their campaign spending reimbursed by the government.

Additionally, there are strict rules on media coverage during French elections. Broadcasters must be equitable in their coverage of an election’s candidates and in the air time given to candidates. The dissemination of fake information during election campaigns is prohibited, and regulatory authorities may suspend the broadcasting authorization of an operator controlled by or under the influence of a foreign state if it broadcasts false information that could affect the election results. 

Alleged Russian interference in the 2017 presidential elections was mostly unsuccessful due in part to French government actions to counter these efforts.

I. Introduction

The regulation of foreign involvement in French politics rests principally on political finance laws. The financing of political parties and political campaigns in France has become increasingly regulated since 1988.[1] Most of the legislation regarding the financing of political coalitions and parties is found in a 1988 law on financial transparency in politics.[2] This statute has evolved considerably since its enactment, as it has been amended several times in an effort to give France a more robust legal framework to regulate the financial activities of political parties.[3]

The legislation regarding the financing of political campaigns, to be distinguished from the financing of political parties, has mostly been incorporated into the Electoral Code, principally in its articles L52-3-1 to L52-17 and R39-1-A to R39-10-1.[4] Presidential elections are governed by a separate law, but the Electoral Code provisions discussed in this report are incorporated by reference into that separate law.[5] 

The main enforcer of French campaign finance laws is an independent agency called the Commission nationale des comptes de campagne et des financements politiques (CNCCFP) (National Commission of Campaign Accounts and Political Financing).[6] The CNCCFP audits campaign accounts and party accounts, and may request the assistance of the national police if necessary.[7] The CNCCFP may apply certain administrative penalties itself, and it can refer penal infractions to the proper judicial authorities.[8]

In addition to finance laws, regulations on media coverage of elections can be used to limit foreign interference attempts.

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II. Financing of Political Parties

French political parties have access to two sources of financing: private financing and government subsidies.[9]

A. Private Financing

Private financing includes private donations and party membership dues, as well as the proceeds of commercial activities (such as the sale of T-shirts or bumper stickers).[10] Only a natural person may make a donation to a political party, and it is illegal for corporate entities or nonprofits to make contributions to political parties.[11] As an exception to this rule, political parties or coalitions may make contributions to other political parties or coalitions.[12]

Since January 1, 2018, only French citizens or persons residing in France may make contributions to a political party or group.[13]

The most that any person can donate to a political party is €7,500 (approximately US$8,525) per year.[14] Additionally, there are limits to the ability of political parties to obtain loans. A natural person may make a loan to a political party or group, but for a maximum term of five years.[15] Furthermore, a person may not give loans to a political party or group on a habitual basis.[16] Political parties may take out bank loans, but only from banks headquartered in the European Union or the European Economic Area.[17]

B. Government Subsidies

Government subsidies were put in place in 1988 and have become the largest source of financing for political parties.[18] In 2018, the French government gave a total of approximately €125.82 billion (about US$143 billion) to over 40 political parties or coalitions.[19] The total amount of government funding is determined in each year’s appropriations law, and is allotted to parties on the basis of two criteria: Half of the funds is distributed on the basis of each party’s results at the previous parliamentary elections, and half is distributed on the basis of each party’s share of seats in Parliament.[20] Any party which presented candidates in at least 50 electoral districts, or in at least one département (France’s principal type of territorial subdivision), and obtained at least 1% of the votes qualifies for a share of the first half of the funds.[21]

As an incentive for equal representation of men and women in French political institutions, the amount of subsidies that a political party is entitled to is reduced if there is an imbalance of more than 2% among that party’s male and female candidates.[22]

C. Party Financial Representative

Every party must appoint a financial representative (mandataire financier) or a nonprofit financing organization (association de financement) to receive all of the party’s income.[23] The financial representative or financing organization must open a single deposit account in which all the party’s financial resources are to be deposited.[24]

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III. Financing of Electoral Campaigns

A. Sources of Funding

A candidate’s campaign may be funded by the following means: the candidate’s personal assets, reimbursement of campaign costs by the government, private donations, contributions from political parties, services or in-kind contributions, advertising income, or the sale of objects and services.[25]

B. Campaign Financial Representative

Candidates for a presidential, parliamentary, regional, or municipal election must appoint a financial representative, no later than the date on which they officially declare their candidacy.[26] This financial representative may either be a person or a nonprofit organization, but candidates may not be the financial representative for their own campaigns.[27] All of a campaign’s funds and expenditures must go through the financial representative.[28] The financial representative must open a single deposit account to which all of the campaign’s financial operations can be traced.[29] All candidates who obtained at least 1% of the votes in an election are required to submit their campaign accounts to the CNCCFP for auditing.[30]

C. Private Donations

A candidate may only receive donations from natural persons, political parties, or political coalitions.[31] Apart from political parties and political coalitions, a candidate may not receive any donations, whether they be monetary or in-kind, from corporate entities or nonprofits.[32] Furthermore, since January 1, 2018, only French citizens or persons residing in France may make contributions to an electoral campaign.[33]  However, there does not appear to be any restriction on foreigners being employed by a campaign.

A donor may not contribute more than €4,600 (approximately US$5,160) to a candidate or candidates in an election.[34] This limit applies to the combined total, so that if an individual donor wishes to contribute to several candidates running in an election, the total of all contributions to these candidates combined must not exceed €4,600.

Candidates may also obtain loans, but under the same restrictions that apply to political parties: If the loan is from an individual, the maximum term is five years, and the individual may not loan habitually; if the loan is from a bank, it must be from a bank headquartered in the European Union or in the European Economic Area.[35]

D. Spending Limits

Every candidate’s campaign spending is capped at an amount that is set principally according to the type of election and the number of inhabitants in the district.[36] For elections to the National Assembly, the current spending cap for each candidate is €38,000 (approximately US$42,660), plus €0.15 (approximately US$0.17) per inhabitant in the candidate’s district.[37] For the 2017 presidential elections, the spending cap for each candidate was set at €16.851 million (about US$18.92 million) for the first round, and €22.509 million (about US$25.27 million) for the second round.[38]

E. Government Reimbursement of Campaign Expenses

If a candidate obtained at least 5% of the votes in the first round of elections, that candidate may be eligible to have up to 47.5% of their campaign spending reimbursed by the government.[39] This reimbursement will only be paid if the CNCCFP, upon auditing the campaign accounts, is satisfied that all campaign finance rules were followed.[40] 

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IV. Regulations on Media Coverage During Elections

The Conseil supérieur de l’audiovisuel (CSA) (National Council on Audiovisual), France’s main regulatory agency for radio and television broadcasting, regulates the coverage of election campaigns by radio and television broadcasters.[41] According to the CSA’s directives, broadcasters must be equitable in their coverage of an election’s candidates and in the air time given to candidates.[42] Apart from presidential elections, for which candidates are offered equal air time, equity does not necessarily mean equality. Rather, equity is to be determined based on the candidates’ or parties’ previous election results and the campaigns’ own efforts to gain public attention and support.[43]

Additionally, the CSA may suspend the broadcasting authorization of an operator controlled by or under the influence of a foreign state if, during the three months before an election, it broadcasts false information that could affect the election results.[44] Furthermore, French law provides that, during the three months preceding an election, a judge may order “any proportional and necessary measure” to stop the “deliberate, artificial or automatic and massive” dissemination of fake or misleading information online.[45] A public prosecutor, candidate, political party or coalition, or any person with standing may file the motion, and the court must rule within 48 hours.[46]

Furthermore, French law prohibits any campaigning during election day, and during the day preceding election day.[47]  This prohibition applies not only to the candidates and their campaigns, but also to journalists, commentators, and any person or institution which could be seen as a direct or indirect proxy.[48]  As a result, the media in France must refrain from publishing any political commentary during election day and the preceding day.[49]  This period is referred to as the période de réserve (period of silence).[50]

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V. Reaction to Foreign Interference Attempts in 2017 French Presidential Election

There have been strong indications that Russia attempted to interfere with the French presidential elections of 2017.[51]  These alleged interference efforts include the last-minute release of a massive amount of leaked emails from the campaign of then-candidate Emmanuel Macron, among which were embedded fake emails.[52]  However, it does not appear that foreign interference had any substantial impact on the election results.  A key factor in countering foreign intervention efforts appears to have been the active role of two government agencies: the Commission Nationale de Contrôle de la  Campagne électorale en vue de l’Élection Présidentielle (CNCCEP) (National Commission for the Control of the Electoral Campaign for the Presidential Election), and the Agence nationale de la sécurité des systèmes d’information (ANSSI) (National Cybersecurity Agency).[53]  These agencies worked with the presidential candidates’ campaigns to educate them on cybersecurity and warn them of specific threats and attacks.[54]  Additionally, the CNCCEP issued a press release, shortly after the above-mentioned data leak, asking the media not to publish the content of the leaked emails and reminding them that disseminating false information is a criminal offense.[55]  Furthermore, law enforcement authorities reacted immediately to the leak, opening a criminal investigation within a few hours of its occurrence.[56]

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Nicolas Boring
Foreign Law Specialist
August 2019


[1] Lois sur le financement des campagnes [Laws on Campaign Financing], Vie-publique.fr (French government website) (May 30, 2006), http://www.vie-publique.fr/decouverte-institutions/institutions/approfondisse ments/lois-financement-campagnes.html, archived at https://perma.cc/TW6V-V57P.

[2] Loi n° 88-227 du 11 mars 1988 relative à la transparence financière de la vie politique [Law No. 88-227 of Mar. 11, 1988, Regarding the Financial Transparency of Political Life], https://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/affichTexte.do?cidTexte=JORFTEXT000000321646, archived at https://perma.cc/E87N-CRGK.

[3] Id.; Lois sur le financement des campagnes [Laws on Campaign Financing], Vie-publique.fr.

[4] C. électoral arts. L52-3-1 to L52-17, R39-1-A to R39-10-1.

[5] Loi n° 62-1292 du 6 novembre 1962 relative à l'élection du Président de la République au suffrage universel [Law No. 62-1292 of Nov. 6, 1962, Regarding the Election of the President of the Republic by Universal Suffrage], https://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/affichTexte.do?cidTexte=LEGITEXT 000006068219&dateTexte=20190705, archived at https://perma.cc/RS45-ZHWU

[6] C. électoral arts. L52-14 to L52-17.

[7] Le rôle de la commission - campagnes électorales [The Role of the Commission – Electoral Campaigns], CNCCFP, http://www.cnccfp.fr/index.php?art=690 (last visited July 5, 2019), archived at https://perma.cc/8PXC-QK9S.

[8] Id.

[9] Le financement de la vie politique [The Financing of Political Life], Senat.fr (French Senate website), https:// www.senat.fr/role/fiche/financ_vie_pol.html (last visited July 1, 2019), archived at https://perma.cc/5SE3-KS7A.

[10] Id.

[11] Loi n° 88-227 du 11 mars 1988, art. 11-4.

[12] Id.

[13] Id. art. 11-4; Loi No. 2017-1339 du 15 septembre 2017 pour la confiance dans la vie politique [Law No. 2017-1339 of Sept. 15, 2017, for Trust in Political Life], art. 25, https://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/ affichTexte.do?cidTexte=JORFTEXT000035567974&categorieLien=id, archived at https://perma.cc/9EG7-XQ6J.

[14] Loi n° 88-227 du 11 mars 1988, art. 11-4.

[15] Id. art. 11-3-1.

[16] Id.

[17] Id. art. 11-4.

[18] Le financement de la vie politique, supra n. 9 ; Fiche de synthèse n°15: Le financement de la vie politique: partis et campagnes électorales [Summary Factsheet No. 15: The Financing of Political Life: Parties and Electoral Campaigns], Assemblee-nationale.fr (National Assembly (lower house of the French Parliament) website), http://www2.assemblee-nationale.fr/decouvrir-l-assemblee/role-et-pouvoirs-de-l-assemblee-nationale/le-depute/le-financement-de-la-vie-politique-partis-et-campagnes-electorales (last visited on July 1, 2019), archived at https://perma.cc/R6EM-KSVN.

[19] Fiche de synthèse n°15: Le financement de la vie politique: partis et campagnes électorales.

[20] Loi n° 88-227 du 11 mars 1988, arts. 8, 9.

[21] Id. art. 9; Fiche de synthèse n°15: Le financement de la vie politique: partis et campagnes électorales, supra note 18.

[22] Loi n° 88-227 du 11 mars 1988, art. 9-1.

[23] Id. art. 11.

[24] Id. art. 11-2.

[25] Jérome Grand d’Esnon et Philippe Blanchetier, Campagnes Electorales, Financement et Communication [Electoral Campaigns, Financing, and Communication] (2007), 18.

[26] C. électoral art. L52-4.

[27] C. électoral art. L52-4; Grand d’Esnon et Blanchetier, supra note 25, at 29.

[28] C. électoral art. L52-4.

[29] Id. arts. L52-5, L52-6.

[30] Fiche de synthèse n°15: Le financement de la vie politique: partis et campagnes électorales, supra note 19; C. électoral art. L52-12.

[31] C. électoral art. L52-8.

[32] Id.

[33] Id. art. L52-8.

[34] Id.

[35] Id. arts. L52-7-1, L52-8.

[36] Id. art. L52-11.

[37] Id.

[38] Présidentielle 2017: les comptes de campagne des candidats validés par la CNCCFP [2017 Presidential Elections: The Candidates’ Campaign Accounts Approved by the CNCCFP], Vie-Publique.fr  (Feb. 13, 2018), https://www.vie-publique.fr/actualite/alaune/presidentielle-2017-publication-comptes-campagne-candidats.html, archived at https://perma.cc/FFA9-VG67.

[39] Id. art. L52-11-1.

[40] Fiche de synthèse n°15: Le financement de la vie politique: partis et campagnes électorales, supra note 19.

[41] Pendant une élection [During an Election], Conseil supérieur de l’audiovisuel [Superior Council on Audiovisual], https://www.csa.fr/Proteger/Garantie-des-droits-et-libertes/Proteger-le-pluralisme-politique/Pendant-une-election (last accessed on July 10, 2019), archived at https://perma.cc/TK83-ZGL3.

[42] Id.

[43] Id.

[44] Loi n° 86-1067 du 30 septembre 1986 relative à la liberté de communication (Loi Léotard) [Law No. 86-1067 of 30 September 1986 Regarding Freedom of Communication (Léotard Law)], art. 33-1-1, https:// www.legifrance.gouv.fr/affichTexte.do?cidTexte=JORFTEXT000000512205&dateTexte=20190617, archived at https://perma.cc/67FR-KBF6.

[45] C. Electoral, art. L163-2.

[46] Id.

[47] Id. arts. L48-2, L50.

[48] Propositions du Conseil supérieur de l’audiovisuel relatives à l’application du principe de pluralisme politique dans les média audiovisuels en période électorale [Proposals of the Superior Council on Audiovisual Regarding the Application of the Principle of Political Pluralism in Audiovisual Media during Elections], Conseil supérieur de l’audiovisuel [Superior Council on Audiovisual] (Sept. 2015), p. 13, https://www.csa.fr/content/download/207860/553562/version/4/file/Propositions%20CSA%20campagnes%20%C3%A9lectorales.pdf, archived at https://perma.cc/FNZ3-E7RP.

[49] Charlotte Belaich, «Période de réserve» : de quoi peut-on parler ce week-end ? [“Period of Silence”: What Can We Discuss this Weekend ?], Liberation (Apr. 21, 2017), https://www.liberation.fr/politiques/2017/04/21/periode-de-reserve-de-quoi-peut-on-parler-ce-week-end_1564254, archived at https://perma.cc/65QT-SJ7W.

[50] Id.

[51] James Masters, Fears of Russian Meddling as France Prepares to go to the Polls, CNN (Apr. 28, 2017), https://www.cnn.com/2017/04/28/europe/french-election-russia/index.html, archived at https://perma.cc/SPJ4-BM28.

[52] Alex Hern, Macron hackers linked to Russian-affiliated group behind US attack, The Guardian (May 8, 2017), https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/may/08/macron-hackers-linked-to-russian-affiliated-group-behind-us-attack, archived at https://perma.cc/6X2L-6MSP; Megha Mohan, Macron Leaks: the anatomy of a hack, BBC (May 9, 2017), https://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-trending-39845105, archived at https://perma.cc/U99V-NHCU.

[53] Jean-Baptiste Jeangène Vilmer, Successfully Countering Russian Electoral Interference, CSIS Briefs (June 2018), https://csis-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/publication/180621_Vilmer_Countering_russiam_electoral_influence.pdf, archived at https://perma.cc/8EMG-QP65.

[54] Id. at 3.

[55] Id. at 5.

[56] Id. at 4.

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Last Updated: 12/30/2020