PARIS, JAN. 13 -- The government adopted political financing rules today that for the first time would put a ceiling on campaign spending and require French politicians to make limited disclosures of their personal wealth.
Despite its limited scope, the new legislation, if approved as expected at a special session of parliament scheduled next month, would end France's status as the only major western democracy without a set of regulations to govern campaign financing.
Unless the proposals become bogged down in wrangling within Prime Minister Jacques Chirac's majority coalition, offficials said, the rules will be applicable in time for presidential elections scheduled April 24 and May 8.
The major opposition party, President Francois Mitterrand's Socialists, has criticized the government legislation as too timid, noting it fails to resolve the murky issue of financing political parties. But Chirac has consulted closely with his coalition partners in drawing up the rules and, perhaps at the price of some amendments, is expected to win passage with a majority if not unanimity.
Pierre Joxe, head of the Socialist group in parliament, indicated today that his party might support the proposals as the best possible now, despite the earlier reservations.
Chirac met with party leaders Nov. 26 and Dec. 9 to seek a consensus on the reforms. He vowed to make changes in response to a challenge several days earlier from Mitterrand and because of a growing public awareness of underhanded finances that French politicians say have become a way of life.
The regulations adopted today require the president, government ministers, regional officials and mayors in cities of more than 50,000 to file a report of their personal wealth just before or just after they take office.
In the case of the president, his report as a candidate and another report just before he leaves office would be published, giving the public an opportunity to see whether he had enriched himself while in office. This is a major innovation in France, where traditionally it has been considered bad form to inquire about the personal finances of a president or other officeholder.
Members of the National Assembly, or parliament, also will file reports when they come into office and leave. But in deference to some members who complained of invasion of their privacy, the report will go to the National Assembly executive office without being published.
The National Assembly office then will publish a report on its comparison between the incoming and outgoing reports. Thus finances of legislators will not be subject to direct public scrutiny but abuses can be denounced.
The legislation limits campaign spending to about $22 million for candidates in the two-round presidential election. The limit for candidates in legislative elections was set at about $73,000.
The government will finance part of the campaigns, reimbursing one-fourth of the ceiling to presidential candidates who get more than 5 percent of the vote and one-tenth of the ceiling to legislative candidates with a similar percentage.