Payback main reason for political donations


The only reason anyone would give money to a political party is because they expect to get something in return

SENIOR COUNSEL have advised the Government that a ban on corporate donations would be unconstitutional. Other senior counsel have advised others that a ban on all private donations to political parties would be unconstitutional.

Politicians are prone to defer inter alia to senior counsel. As though what a senior counsel says is the end of the matter constitutionally.

If what senior counsel said were always determinative, there would hardly be any legal actions at all. Why bother pursuing legal actions, once senior counsel had given authoritative legal advice? Indeed, since legal actions do run their course, it would seem that senior counsel give conflicting legal advice, so at least half of them must be wrong.

But, that aside, we are asked to believe that the Supreme Court would accept the proposition that rich people are free to support parties that represent their interests, by donations either from themselves individually or through their corporations, and thereby bias the political system in their favour.

For it is a reality that parties that represent the interests of rich or relatively rich people are given an advantage over parties that represent the interests of people too poor to make significant donations to a political party, when private finance is permitted to fund political parties.

If donations to political parties do not give an advantage to the recipient political parties why would the parties even bother seeking donations? Why would they expend such exorbitant effort and time in fundraising? Why would parties spend millions in election campaigns if it did them no good, gave them no advantage? Why would anybody bother to give donations to a political party if it was entirely a waste of money?

Inequality in income is justifiable, it is argued, because without such inequality there would be no incentive to work harder than minimally necessary, to take risks, to create wealth for oneself and, indirectly, for society generally. And most people seem persuaded by that argument and are not troubled by such inequality.

But when income inequality becomes a driver for other inequalities in health, in education, in status, in power, in welfare generally, then it is more problematic, at least for some people. But when that income inequality, in addition to all that, also interferes with the equality of the vote, then many of us, I think, believe that goes far too far. It drives inequality right into the core of our society, making any advance towards a more equal society all the more difficult.

Surely our Supreme Court would not find that such an invasion into the equality of the political system is permissible or rather worse, required by our Constitution?

There is the further point that at least some donors to political parties are motivated by an expectation of a quid pro quo. That once the party they help to fund gets into office, then they will be favoured by access and influence.

Certainly, the wealthy in this society are afforded an access far greater than that afforded people in the most deprived areas, who have no access at all, except in the most exceptional of circumstances.

When last was somebody from St Michael’s Estate in Inchicore or Dolphin House in Dublin or Southill in Limerick or Knocknaheeny in Cork in a minister’s office? When last was someone from those areas invited to dinner with a minister in the K Club? Yet this happens almost incidentally to the wealthy. Many of such meetings are around political party fundraisers and the reason rich people like to go to these, invariably dreary affairs, is because it offers an opportunity to access the “ear” of a minister, and therefore influence policy. Of course ministers like to socialise with the glamorous rich, from whatever party they come – it seems to add to their sense of status.

There is the further point: the contention that there is something different about rich people giving money to political parties through their corporations and rich people giving money directly. This justifies, apparently, the proposed ban on corporate donations and the opposition to banning all donations – ie donations from individual people as well. It makes no sense at all and nobody has offered any explanation for why the former is objectionable but the latter not objectionable.

All political funding should come from the public purse and should be done objectively and fairly, taking care not to favour incumbency. And the way to do this is simple: fund candidates’ campaigns in general elections (if they choose to use some of this funding for their political party, that is their choice) and do so equally. So fund candidates who are nominated by an agreed number of their constituents (eg 200 constituents or 500 or whatever) and fund parties between elections on the basis of the support they got in the previous elections, whether national or local.

And bar allother funding, including the personal financial resources of the candidates themselves.

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