Electoral expenditure and disclosure FAQ

Updated 20 Mar 2015

An expenditure cap is a limit on the amount of money that can be spent on an election campaign for an ACT Legislative Assembly election.

The capped expenditure period for an ACT Legislative Assembly election is the period from 1 January in an election year until the end of polling day (the third Saturday in October). Electoral expenditure incurred during this period is subject to caps.

Expenditure caps were introduced for the 2012 ACT election. At that time the expenditure cap was $60,000 per candidate or entity.

Following amendments to the Electoral Act 1992 that commenced on 3 March 2015, the expenditure cap for the 2016 election will be $40,000, indexed annually thereafter. The expenditure cap applies to party groupings, non-party candidate groupings, associated entities, non-party MLAs (if any) and third party campaigners. The decrease in the expenditure cap takes account of the increase in the size of the Assembly to occur at the 2016 election, when the Assembly will increase from 17 to 25 MLAs.

The expenditure cap for a party grouping for the 2016 election will be $40,000 per candidate, multiplied by the number of party candidates contesting the election, to a maximum of 25 candidates (5 candidates for each of the 5 electorates). For a party standing 5 candidates in each electorate, the maximum expenditure cap will be $1,000,000 ($40,000 x 25).

The expenditure cap for non-party candidate groupings, associated entities, non-party MLAs and third party campaigners is $40,000.

The expenditure cap only applies to electoral expenditure incurred in relation to an ACT Legislative Assembly election during the capped expenditure period. (See What is electoral expenditure? below for more information.)

Where gifts-in-kind are used for purposes related to ACT electoral expenditure, the value of those gifts-in-kind is included in the calculation of the total amount of electoral expenditure incurred.

The Electoral Amendment Act 2015, which commenced 3 March 2015, removed the prohibition on a third party campaigner acting ‘in concert’ with another entity to incur expenditure in excess of the expenditure cap. Third party campaigners are now able to work in association with another third party campaigner as long as the electoral expenditure incurred by each entity is not greater than $40,000.

If an entity breaches the cap on electoral expenditure, the entity is liable to pay a penalty to the Territory equal to twice the amount by which the electoral expenditure cap is exceeded.

After the 2016 election, the electoral expenditure cap will be adjusted annually by CPI on 1 January and published as a notifiable instrument on the ACT Legislation Register.

The reporting agent of a party (with respect to a party grouping, including party MLAs and party candidates) and of a non-party MLA is required to lodge an election expenditure return within 60 days after polling day. The return must list expenditure on specific items where the expenditure is incurred during the capped expenditure period.

Even if no expenditure was incurred, the entity must submit a nil return unless the entity did not contest the election.

The reporting agent of a non-party candidate (with respect to the candidate and his or her associated entities) is required to lodge an election expenditure return within 60 days after polling day. The return must list expenditure on specific items where the expenditure is incurred during the capped expenditure period.

Non-party candidates must also lodge a return listing the total amount of gifts received during the disclosure period. If the sum of the gifts received from a person or organisation is $1,000 or more, the return must also list the name, address and ABN (if applicable) of the giver, the amount received and the date of receipt. The value of a gift-in-kind must be declared including descriptions of how the gift was valued and of the gift itself.

A non-party candidate is not required to disclose gifts made in a private capacity to the candidate for his or her personal use, that the candidate has not used, and will not use, solely or substantially for a purpose related to an election. Even if no electoral expenditure was incurred and no gifts were received during the disclosure period, the non-party candidate must still submit a nil return.

The disclosure period for this purpose is the period beginning on the 31st day after the previous election if the candidate contested that election, or the earlier of the date the candidate publicly announced he or she would be a candidate and the date the candidate was nominated as a candidate, and ending on the 30th day after the relevant election.

The reporting agent of an associated entity is required to lodge an election expenditure return within 60 days after polling day. The return must list expenditure on specific items where the expenditure is incurred during the capped expenditure period.

Even if no expenditure was incurred, the entity must submit a nil return unless the entity did not contest the election.

If electoral expenditure of more than $1,000 is incurred, a third party campaigner is required to lodge an election expenditure return within 60 days after polling day in an election. The return must list expenditure on specific items where the expenditure is incurred during the capped expenditure period.

Third party campaigners must also lodge a return listing any gift or sum of gifts received from a person or organisation totalling $1,000 or more, where such gifts are used to incur electoral expenditure in the disclosure period. The return must list the name, address and ABN (if applicable) of the giver, the amount received and the date of receipt.

The disclosure period for this purpose is the period beginning on the 31st day after the previous election and ending on the 30th day after the relevant election.

Broadcasters and publishers must lodge returns, within 8 weeks of polling day, disclosing information regarding electoral advertisements broadcast or published by their organisation during the pre-election period.

The pre-election period is from 36 days prior to polling day until the end of polling day.

Electoral expenditure incurred in relation to an election falls within the following categories:

  • Broadcasting electoral advertisements (including production costs);
  • Publishing electoral advertisements in a news publication, including printed and electronic newspapers or periodicals (including production costs);
  • Displaying electoral advertisements at a theatre or other place of entertainment (including production costs);
  • Production of printed or electronic electoral matter requiring authorisation - examples include how-to-vote cards, posters, pamphlets and internet advertising;
  • Producing, broadcasting, publishing or distributing electoral matter that does not require authorisation – for example direct mailing (including printing and postage), business cards promoting candidacy, T-shirts, badges and buttons, pens, pencils and balloons;
  • Consultant's or advertising agent's fees in respect of services provided or material used relating to the election; and
  • Opinion polling and other electoral research undertaken to support the production of electoral matter included in any of the above.

A person or entity incurs electoral expenditure when the service or product to which the expenditure relates is provided or delivered. For example, the cost of production of an electoral advertisement is incurred when the advertisement is broadcast, regardless of when the payment for the production of the advertisement was made. Similarly, electoral expenditure on printed pamphlets is said to be incurred when the pamphlets are distributed, not on the date that the payment for the production of the pamphlets is finalised.