As we have been dealing with the transparency of political parties’ activity for quite a while, the time has come now for a short review. What have we managed to achieve? There is no clear-cut evidence of how (if at all) parties’ attitudes towards the right to information have changed. Nonetheless, it can be stated without doubt that the situation is still far from perfect even though freedom of information constitutes one of the pillars of democracy and the rule of law.
Article 61 of the Constitution of the Republic of Poland ensures the right to information understood as information about the activities of public authority organs as well as persons discharging public functions. Likewise, Act of 6 September 2001 on access to public information asserts that to make public information available is the obligation of (…) political parties (art. 4 sec. 2). One of the most common justifications parties give when refusing to disclose information is that the requested data or documents do not constitute public information. Yet, according to the Supreme Administrative Court of Poland there is no doubt that a political party fulfils a public role (sentence from June 27, 2013; case no. I OSK 513/13), and hence information on their activity and finances ought to be available to the public.
Why is it so significant that citizens be given an insight into the functioning of political parties? Above all, parties are inherent in public life and as we all know, public life should be governed by the rules of transparency and accountability for the sake of democracy. Many party members hold public office and politics within parties have an undeniable impact on decisions and strategies adopted by state officials. Consequently, although political parties per se do not exercise public authority, they shape the political scene in our country to a greater or lesser extent. Transparency acts thus like a bridge connecting authorities with the actual sovereign, namely the people.
Furthermore, political party funding partly relies on public money, that is our money. Parties which won more than 3 per cent of votes (6 per cent for coalitions) in parliamentary elections receive subsidies from the government budget whose amount depends on the number of votes won. In this way, Prawo i Sprawiedliwość (Law and Justice Party) gained 18.5 million zloty in the last parliamentary election and the total amount of subsidies for political parties nearly reached 60 million zloty. Subsidies are paid in yearly instalments throughout the whole term of office of the parliament. Apart from this, parties receive grants from the state budget for every parliamentary mandate. Political parties are thus funded to a great extent from our own pockets, no wonder we want to know what happens to that money. What is surprising though, is that parties tend to be unable or unwilling to acknowledge this relationship. You can find out more about the funding of political parties from our article “TAK dla (współ)finansowania partii politycznych ze środków publicznych” (in Polish).
Our first contact with the subject of political parties was in 2013 when we asked PiS (Law and Justice Party), PO (Civic Platform), PSL (Polish People’s Party), SLD (Democratic Left Alliance) and Twój Ruch (Your Movement) to disclose contracts to conduct public opinion polls and the results of those polls together with all invoices from the period of January and February 2013. It was then that we experienced reluctance on the part of political parties for the first time – either they stated that the requested information is not of public character or they ignored our request altogether. We decided, therefore, to submit 10 complaints to the Regional Administrative Court in Warsaw. Our lawyers managed to win the cases against PiS, PO, PSL and SLD by the end of the year and against Twój Ruch in 2015. The last three agreed to send us the documents we had asked for, while the two biggest Polish parties opted to continue the fight and lodged an appeal to the Supreme Administrative Court of Poland (both won by our organisation). In the end the entire process turned out to be successful, however, this situation made us aware that political parties in Poland still aren’t ready to respect citizens’ rights with regard to the right to information.
In August 2014 we sent requests to PiS, PO, PSL, SLD, Twój Ruch, Kongres Nowej Prawicy (Congress of the New Right), Prawica Rzeczpospolitej (Right Wing of the Republic) and Solidarna Polska (Solidary Poland) for disclosing minutes of the Management Board and audit commissions meetings, resolutions of the Management Board and all reports paid for with the party’s Expert Fund in 2013.
The most recent case so far is our request for providing a list of all expenses before and after the election that we submitted in February this year to political parties participating in the parliamentary election on the 25th of October 2015. As mentioned before, those expenses are largely financed with funds from the public purse and despite this, only three parties provided us with the requested data without considerable delays or further litigation proceedings. Those were Nowoczesna (Modern), Partia Razem (Together Party) and Zieloni (Green Party). They were joined by SLD at the end of April and PO together with PSL in July. We are hence still waiting for the response of the remaining four parties, including the ruling party Prawo i Sprawiedliwość. The current situation is unquestionably better than the one we faced in 2013, considering the fact we managed to access much more information without recourse to courts of law. Nonetheless, a lot still needs to be improved and it is a real pity because there is a much greater deal at stake than access to parties’ finances alone – it is the condition of our democracy.
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