A challenge to democracy? Illegal Party and Campaign Financing in an international Comparison

by Markus Pohlmann

Only recently, the German party AfD has been asked to pay a fine totaling 402,900 euros for accepting illegal party donations, which is three times the amount inadmissibly received. This was decided by the Bundestag administration, as announced in April 2019. The party announced that it would bring an action before the Administrative Court against the decisions but had already decided to save one million euros for imminent fines. Nicolas Sarkozy is also likely to have to go to court for illegal election campaign donations in 2012. It is about 20 million euros more than the upper limit allowed, disguised with the help of a communications agency. The French Constitutional Council decided in May 2019 that the trial against the 64-year-old is justified because he may have violated the integrity expected of a candidate or an elected official. However, the sums in many European countries are peanuts measured by the dimensions of illegal campaign funding in various non-European states.

Nicolas Sarkozy, source: א (Aleph) via Wikimedia Commons

Let’s take Brazil as an example: According to current information, the construction group Odebrecht distributed around 14.4 million US dollars to 15 different political parties in the context of the presidential and governor elections of 2014 alone. According to the hearing of a former PT party accountant, João Vaccari, the PT party alone received approximately 200 million US dollars between 2003 and 2013. As far as can be seen from previous investigations, a total of three to six billion US dollars in party donations and bribes have been paid in the Petrobras bribery scheme over the past ten to 15 years.

Or let’s look at India: The institutional weakness with regard to the prevention of political corruption has led to dirty money for campaign financing being just as self-evident as legal donations. This is the dark side of elections. Even though only speculative estimates exist up to date, a study by Jennifer Bussell has at least shown that the majority of the 2,500 politicians surveyed regard black money as a central source of funding: When asked what they thought was the most important source of money in the last elections, most respondents cited black money.

To what extent organizational and individual deviance are behind this, how much personal enrichment, calculation and party raison d’être is associated with it, are questions that are still little clarified in an international comparison. Also, how the close connection between money and politics in some countries can be classified in terms of democratic theory and whether this undermines the whole democratic mechanism is currently not easy to answer scientifically. Even such electoral systems, which are more corrupted by money, cause democratic surprises again and again that cannot be explained by “money buys votes”.

In order to discuss the different forms of crime and their backgrounds in an international comparison as well as in a comparison of two sectors, business and politics, we are hosting an international conference on “Corporate Crime and Illegal Party Financing in a Comparative Perspective” in September 2019.

Conference Poster;  picture credit: Michael Cohen, IowaPolitics.com via Wikimedia Commons; Nicolas Sarkozy, א  (Aleph) via Wikimedia Commons; Sergio Moro, PT – Partido dos Trabalhadores via flickr

In the first part “Corporate Crime” (09.19.-20.), the conference will deal with the clarification and prevention of criminal behavior in an entrepreneurial context. Case studies from Germany, the USA, and Brazil will be used to illustrate, explain, and discuss the background to various corruption cases, including their impact on legislation.

In the second part, “Illegal Party Financing and Campaign Financing” (09.20.-21.), the conference will focus on the systems of illegal party and campaign financing. With the support of experts from various countries (including Germany, France, Latin America, South Asia, and Southeast Asia), cultural and institutional factors as well as elements of path dependency, regulation and self-regulation will be identified by means of cross-national comparisons. In this way, illegal campaign and party financing shall be explained and prevented in the future.

The conference is organized by Professor Markus Pohlmann from the Max-Weber-Institute of Sociology and is hosted by the South Asia Institute, the Institute of Political Science, the Institute for German, European and International Criminal Law and Law of Criminal Procedures, and the Institute of Criminology. The VolkswagenStiftung and Heidelberg University’s Field of Focus 4 „Self-regulation and Regulation” are funding the conference.

Should the conference be of interest to you, we would be very happy to welcome you as a guest. Please register with us at: ocs@mwi.uni-heidelberg.de

You can now find our blog under the ISSN number 2629-5687.


Bussell, Jennifer (2018): Whose Money, Whose Influence? Multi-level Politics and Campaign Finance in India, in Devesh Kapur and Milan Vaishnav (eds.), Costs of Democracy: Political Finance in India, New Delhi: Oxford University Press

DW (2015): Brazil orders tough jail sentences in Petrobras corruption scandal

DW (2019): Germany’s AfD party fined over €400,000 for illegal campaign financing

France24 (2019): Ex-France president Sarkozy to face trial on charges of corruption, influence-peddling

Mitra, Subrata and Hauck, Laura Sophia (2019): Campaign financing in India: Black Money and the Sale of Offices

Röbel, Sven (2019): AfD muss 400.000 Euro Strafe zahlen

Spiegel Online (2019): Sarkozy muss vor Gericht


Diesen Blogbeitrag zitieren
Markus Pohlmann (2019, 19. Juli). A challenge to democracy? Illegal Party and Campaign Financing in an international Comparison. Organizational Crime Stories. Abgerufen am 25. Mai 2024, von https://doi.org/10.58079/phej

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