Home > Media, Party funding > Costs of campaigning online

Costs of campaigning online

The use of the internet in the election campaign gained attention recently with political parties advertising on Mumsnet. Not sure how effective this was, and whether its desired goal was to get some mainstream media attention (just as poster campaigns are a way to get on TV news, rather than for many people to see the posters). I have also seen a number a sponsored links for the political parties and other campaigning organisations on various websites – potentially opening up a new front in election spending. Much of the cost of British campaigns has been kept down through the absence of TV ads. I will be interested to see how much gets spent on internet advertising, and whether it is becoming a substantial new cost in elections.

Yet direct ads are just one part of the cost of the online campaign. The various websites and content produced by partisan groups and people (both with and without a formal link to a party) play a role in the political ‘resources war.’ For example, Labour List published details of its sources of income – including donations, sponsorship and advertising – later commented on by Guido Fawkes. That a site receives such income raises the question of how much some of the online activities cost and who is paying for them. For most sites, these details are unknown.

The closer we get to the election, there is greater potential for these online speakers to come within the election spending controls. We are currently in the ‘long campaign’ for the general election, for the purposes of the party funding controls. During this time, a person or website spending in support of a particular party will need to register with the Electoral Commission only if it spends more than £10k on electoral advocacy. I can’t see many independent sites going above that threshold. In any event, there are also questions about how far an amount spent on a site is for electoral purposes (and subject to the limits) or for non-electoral purposes (and therefore outside of the controls).

However, in the ‘short campaign, ‘ which takes place once Parliament has been dissolved, a limit of £500 is imposed on those expenses incurred in ‘promoting or procuring the election of a candidate.’ The limit is lower still in relation to local election candidates. The use of websites seeking to support a particular candidate in an election will fall under those rules. Much of the content on the web, will be well within those rules and incur nowhere that amount. But some of the bigger sites and some web advertising could fall foul of this law. So far, I don’t think this has been much of an issue and not sure how far it is monitored. As the online stakes get higher, it could become a bigger question.

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