Party finance and Political Representation

Ken McDonagh 13 April 2011

Vincent Browne has a new bugbear – party finance. In today’s Irish Times he writes: ‘The only reason anyone would give money to a political party is because they expect to get something in return’
He goes on to link the problem of private funding for political parties to the disproportionate representation of the views of the very wealthy, (to read the full article click here) however his proposed solution is neither fair nor practical.
This is due to the fact that Vincent has misidentified the problem, the transactional nature of political support is not the core of the issue – namely the willingness to donate in order to have your view represented, essentially this is the same logic as voting – the problem is the relative difference in power and influence between the very wealthy and the ordinary citizens produced by the ability of the former to use their substantial financial resources to influence policy makers. Continue reading

Party Games: Pay to Play

Posted by Kenneth McDonagh, Dec 3rd 2010

One of the recurrent themes of the recent debates on political reform has been the lack of engagement and/or connection between ordinary citizens and the political system. The public ranges between rage and apathy when it comes to the question of how to influence politics. Calls for electoral reform are criticised because the voters will always get the government they deserve regardless of how you count up the preferences. Calls for institutional reform may be doomed to failure because the same party minions toiling under the same party whips will find themselves in these new institutions, you can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear. Or in social science terms: Garbage in, Garbage out.

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Political funding reform needed

This has been mentioned in passing on this site before but perhaps it is worth its own thread given recent events. The Irish Times points out today that It is not just Fianna Fáil that has behaved badly over ethical legislation and transparency.

Because political donations below a certain limit do not have to be disclosed to the standards commission, many donations were set below the limit.. The commission also suspects that large donations may be split up into small amounts to avoid disclosure. Last year, when local, European and byelections were held, not a single donation was publicly recorded by Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael or the Labour Party. This is a disgrace. Ethical standards and political funding mechanisms require fundamental reform.

In its  2009 annual report published this week SIPO also argues that liabilities should be declared by public representatives and public servants in their annual statements of interests.

Party finance to enable democracy

Few could argue that the regime of political finance has not had an impact on Irish politics and policy. It was the famous Tent at Ballybrit each year which symbolised the symbiotic relationship between Fianna Fáil and the property industry. Thanks to Elaine Byrne we know that the property industry accounted for more donations than ay other group. We know that the industry lobbied hard and we know it got its way. We even have an admission from government that its policies of providing tax breaks to the wealthy to facilitate more building in a building boom encouraged greater speculation, fuelled the boom and in turn made the crash so painful. Continue reading