Full Report (PDF, 696KB)
This report by the foreign law research staff of the Law Library of Congress’s Global Legal Research Directorate includes surveys of thirteen major democratic foreign jurisdictions on laws and policies addressing foreign involvement in elections.
Reports of foreign interference in recent elections in the United States and elsewhere have prompted responses in several countries. For example, Australia enacted a new law in 2018 imposing limits on foreign donations to parties and candidates, and also prohibited other political actors from using foreign donations to fund political expenditures. Australia also adopted a Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme, which requires persons undertaking political activities for foreign principals to meet registration and disclosure requirements. Australia also legislated new criminal offenses involving foreign interference, including the offense of “intentional foreign interference,” which provides for imprisonment for up to 20 years for covert or deceptive conduct on behalf of a foreign principal intended to influence a political or governmental process.
Canada also enacted a new law in 2018. The Elections Modernization Act provides that only Canadian citizens or permanent residents can contribute to parties or candidates, and that third parties may not use funds for a partisan purpose during a pre-election period if the source of the funds is a foreign entity. The new law creates offenses prohibiting foreign actors from unduly influencing an election and Canadians from colluding with foreign actors for this purpose.
In France, effective January 1, 2018, only French citizens or residents may make contributions to political parties or to an electoral campaign.
South Africa enacted a new law on political party funding in 2019, which generally bars parties from accepting foreign donations, although there is an exception for foreign donations for training of party members and policy development. Permissible donations above a specified level are subject to disclosure requirements.
Most of the other countries surveyed in this report similarly have laws prohibiting foreign donations. Donations typically are defined broadly to include all forms of support having monetary value, including provision of services.
Thus, in Japan, political contributions from foreign persons and entities are prohibited. Singapore prohibits political associations and candidates from accepting donations from foreigners, and prohibits foreigners from conducting election activities and publishing election advertising.
In Germany, political parties and individual members of the Bundestag may not accept donations above a threshold amount from sources outside Germany, with certain permissible exceptions. In Great Britain, donations above a threshold amount are allowed only from “permissible donors,” which only include United Kingdom persons and entities. Third-party campaigners that spend above a specified amount are subject to spending limits and reporting requirements.
In Israel, political parties and blocs are prohibited from receiving foreign contributions. Foreign contributions to individual candidates are not prohibited, but donations to candidates from any source are capped. In addition, Israel requires “foreign political entities,” which include foreign governments and nonprofit organizations financed or controlled by foreigners, to disclose their funding and to display on advertisements and publications that they are so funded.
In India, parties and candidates are prohibited from accepting foreign contributions (although there has been legislation and litigation over what constitutes a foreign corporation for this purpose).
Brazil’s Constitution prohibits political parties from receiving financial assistance from foreign entities or governments. A law provides that, if a political party is determined to have received foreign financial assistance, its status as a registered party will be canceled.
Turkey prohibits foreign donations of any kind to political parties, although it appears there is a gap in the law concerning the financing and expenditures of individual candidates in municipal elections and national elections below the presidential level.
Unlike the other surveyed countries, Sweden focuses on mandating transparency in political party financing. Sweden does not make foreign donations illegal, except with respect to donations offered by a foreigner on behalf of a foreign government where the recipient intends to disseminate propaganda in Sweden. Sweden prohibits anonymous donations above a small threshold amount.The surveys for two of the countries note that educational efforts have been undertaken to thwart foreign interference. In France, government agencies responsible for election integrity and cybersecurity undertook efforts to prevent foreign interference with the 2017 election, including working with the candidates’ campaigns on cybersecurity, alerting the media regarding false information, and immediately launching enforcement actions in response to the release of leaked candidate emails. Similarly, in Sweden, a government agency was tasked with increasing awareness among Swedish residents of the threats associated with misinformation and influence campaigns, and prepared a manual for identifying, understanding, and countering information influence activities by foreign powers seeking to undermine democratic processes.
Comparative Summary by:
Chief, Foreign, Comparative, and Intenational Division II
Countries Surveyed for Report:
Global Legal Research Directorate Staff
Last Updated: 12/30/2020