Can the Kenyan Election Campaign Finance Act 2013 be a panacea to monetised politics if enforced?

In Kenya, there has been too much money flowing in campaigns for the general elections just as it was witnessed in 2022, with most of it suspected to be coming from “dirty sources” such as corruption. This situation has been worsened by the failure to enforce the Election Campaign Finance Act 2013 on two electoral cycles. Why? More details in the article.

In 2021, the Westminster Foundation for Democracy released a study on the cost of politics in Kenya that analyzed the expenditure of individuals who contested for political office at senate, national assembly and county Assembly level in the general elections of 2017. The study revealed that the senate seat was the most expensive of all the posts to contest for. It cost an average of Kshs. 35.5 million (US$ 350,000) to contest for this seat in 2017. Contestants for the Woman Representative seats also spent significant sums, with the average expenditure reaching Kshs. 22.8 million (US$ 228,000). For those seeking to become members of parliament, the average spend was Kshs. 18.2 million (US$ 182,000), while the Member of County Assembly seat was the least expensive at Kshs. 3.1 million (US$ 31,000).

The study reveals that the campaign funds were predominantly raised from individuals’ personal savings or with the support of friends or family. And less than 20% of survey respondents revealed to have received financial support directly from their political party.

There have been attempts to reduce the cost of election campaigns in Kenya. The enactment of the Election Campaign Financing Act 2013 and the Political Parties Act 2011 both sought to address these challenges. The Political Parties Fund, established by the Political Parties Act, sets the threshold for political parties to receive funds. This includes obtaining at least 3% of the total votes in a general election and meeting the constitutional threshold of not more than two-thirds of registered office bearers from one gender. There is also a requirement for representation of special interest groups in the party’s governing council and securing at least 20 elected members of the National Assembly, three elected Senators, three elected Governors, and 40 elected MCAs.

The Election Campaign Financing Act provides a framework for candidates and political parties to receive only regulated contributions, to form campaign finance committees, and to account for funds received. The IEBC is mandated to draft campaign finance rules that cover the candidate selection process, donation and spending limits, bookkeeping and disclosure requirements, and provision for the enforcement of regulations. The Election Campaign Finance Act requires that campaign finance rules must be in place at least a year before the general election.

Prior to the 2022 general elections, the IEBC had developed regulations that intended to cap presidential campaign spending at Sh4.4 billion ($38.2 million), while spending limits for governorship, senatorial, and woman representative seats had been capped on a county-by-county basis ranging from Sh21.9 million ($190,434) to Sh117.3 million ($1 million).

However, for the second successive election cycle, The National Assembly (Parliament) of Kenya suspended the enforcement of the Act for the 2022 general elections. One of the grounds used by the Kenyan lawmakers to reject the campaign finance regulations was the finding that the regulations were enacted without the involvement of the public by the IEBC.

There is a sense in which the political class is conspiring to ensure that the progressive Campaign Financing law never sees the light of day. The refusal to enforce the Campaign Finance Act continues to make the cost of politics in Kenya to rise and it is now evident that only those with the “deepest pockets” can ably contest hence excluding most youth and women who lack the required sums of money.

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