Campaign transparency improves but 108 warnings issued

The Inspectorate officially warned 108 candidates after they failed to submit a campaign donation return after contesting the 2020 council elections.

A campaign donation return is a record of any gifts, donations or in-kind support worth $500 or more received by election candidates for use in their campaigns. Candidates must submit a return to the chief executive officer of the council where they are standing for election within 40 days after election day.

Candidates must also submit a return even if they do not receive any donations or support. A summary of these declarations must then be published on the council’s website.

The Inspectorate investigation found that, of a total of 2,192 candidates running during the council elections, 144 failed to submit a campaign donation return within the required 40 days. However, 34 candidates subsequently submitted a late return.

The remaining 108 candidates who failed to comply were issued with an official warning.

However, the rate of non-compliance halved compared to the 2016 council election when 290 candidates failed to comply.

Prior to the 2020 general elections and 2021 South Gippsland election, the Inspectorate worked with the Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC) to inform candidates of the need to submit campaign donation returns. They were also reminded of their obligations immediately after voting closed.

The Inspectorate will continue to work with the VEC prior to the 2024 elections to inform candidates about the need to submit campaign donation returns and remind them of their obligations.

Electoral Commissioner, Warwick Gately AM also reminded local council candidates of their responsibility to comply with electoral law. “It’s important for local council candidates to be aware of their legal obligations, including campaign donation returns. The VEC’s candidate handbook, available from the election manager for each local council election, is a good starting point for summarising these obligations.”

CMI Michael Stefanovic said:

“Campaign donation declarations ensures ongoing integrity and transparency in the sector. The community has a right to know who is supporting their local candidate and should be able to easily access this information on their council’s website.

"It is pleasing to see an improvement in the number of candidates declaring their campaign donations in 2020 compared to 2016 and we will work hard to ensure more candidates submit campaign donation returns on time in 2024.”

While a prima facie breach of the electoral provisions of the Act was substantiated for 109 individuals, we opted not to pursue prosecution. However, the warning will be taken into account if the candidates fail to submit a return in future council elections.

More information about campaign donation returns is available on our website.