Comparing third party policy frameworks: Regulating third party electoral finance in Canada and the United Kingdom

Date01 July 2018
Published date01 July 2018
Subject MatterArticles
Comparing third party
policy frameworks:
Regulating third party
electoral finance
in Canada and the
United Kingdom
Andrea Lawlor
King’s University College, Western University, Canada
Erin Crandall
Acadia University, Canada
Deciding how to regulate money during elections is a critical policy choice faced by
every democracy. Over the last two decades, both the United Kingdom and Canada
have implemented substantial revisions to their electoral laws, including policy measures
designed to regulate third party spending. Despite similar policy objectives, the coun-
tries’ approaches to regulation differ, leaving the potential for significant variation in
third party spending outcomes. These differences between countries, with otherwise
very similar policy goals and systems of government, provide a unique opportunity to
build and test a comparative policy evaluation framework for third party campaign
spending. By examining these differences and similarities, this article builds a framework
for election policy evaluation that can be adapted to serve as a template for future
policy evaluation, facilitating comparative research.
Administration and democracy, electoral regulation, evaluation, performance audit,
policymaking, public finance
Public Policy and Administration
2018, Vol. 33(3) 332–353
!The Author(s) 2017
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/0952076717724498
Corresponding author:
Erin Crandall, Acadia University, 10 Highland Avenue, Wolfville, Nova Scotia, B4P 2R6 Canada.
How a country regulates its elections is at its core an expression of its democratic
values. While overarching principles, such as freedom of expression and equality of
participation, are often recognized in bills of rights or constitutions, interpretations
of these values must ultimately be translated into narrowly cast policies that regu-
late how dif‌ferent parties can participate in the electoral process. Consequently,
once a regulatory regime is designed and implemented, policymakers are faced with
what is arguably an equally important challenge: are regulations meeting the prin-
ciples and objectives undergirding the regulations themselves?
Despite the interpretive nature of some of these values, assessing the successes
and failures of these policies is an empirical question. A country’s election cam-
paign regime is made up of many components: the length of the election period,
eligible participants, how much spending is allowed and by whom, the types of
state subsidies available (if any), the types of spending and contributions that need
to be disclosed and reported, and what penalties will be applied if regulations are
violated, among other features. Understanding the overall performance of an elec-
tion regime requires ref‌lecting on the utility of these components and revising them
when they fall short of their intended outputs. While there is a developed body of
literature that considers the motivations behind the design of election regulations
(Katz and Mair, 1995; Scarrow, 2004), as well the outcomes stemming from these
regulations (Boatright, 2011; Casal Be
´rtoa et al., 2014; Ewing et al., 2012; Farrell
and Schmitt-Beck, 2008; Norris and Abel van Es, 2016; Young and Jansen, 2011),
far less attention has been paid to the responsiveness of the regulatory frameworks
themselves (though see Clark, 2015).
Among those regulated are third party (often called non-party) actors – indi-
viduals or groups that are not political parties or candidates, but who partici-
pate in an election campaign by advertising for or against candidates or issues
of concern. In Canada and the United Kingdom, the regulations governing third
party behaviour have in the past two decades undergone signif‌icant changes.
However, we have little sense of whether the accompanying changes in the
regulatory frameworks that govern election campaigns in these countries are
meeting their stated objectives.
Accordingly, the purpose of this paper is two-fold: (1) to build an evaluation
framework for election campaign policy that can serve as a template to facilitate
future comparative research; and (2) to employ this framework to evaluate the
administrative strengths and weaknesses of third party regulations in Canada
and the UK from 2000 to 2016. To meet these objectives, we begin by explain-
ing the role of third parties in election campaigns, followed by a comparative
analysis of policy development and change. Finally, we discuss the utility of a
policy evaluation approach and set out a new framework to evaluate third party
regulations in Canada and the UK. In our evaluation we f‌ind that both coun-
tries’ policy goals are met to varying degrees, but with opportunities to improve
upon adherence to administrative and regulatory requirements, particularly in
light of the rise of new communication technologies and techniques that now
dominate campaigns.
Lawlor and Crandall 333

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