Democracy 4 Sale

It is a rare for me to agree with Janet Albrechtsen. Still rarer for me to hear her say, almost verbatim, an idea that I have bored my friends with for years. In yesteday’s Australian she draws attention to the corrupting influence of political donations and finishes with a rhetorical flourish…

So what is the answer to all this policy corruption? Simple. Ban all political donations by anyone, business, unions or individuals. Fund political parties out of consolidated revenue proportionate to voter support.

This would mean that the ALP would lose their union funding, which I suspect is why Janet is so keen on the idea. Not that the unions are likely to have much money after Workchoices kicks in. She then lays down the challenge.

If there is a better way of cutting the link between funding and policy, let the debate begin.

So let it begin.

Now Janet’s proposal needs a few modifications in my view. The first problem is funding being proportional to current support. Mathematically, a one party state is a stable equilibrium under this allocation rule. Of more immediate concern is the fact that it provides a barrier to entry for new parties.

The easiest way to fix this is to allow private donations to any party whose support is below some threshold. Donation to a party that does not yet have any political leverage is not a recipe for corruption. So the Greens or Democrats could be formed under this system. And you can will your estate to the Banks are Bastards Party if you really want to.

A second related problem is that minor parties without a large initial donation base are at a big disadvantage at election time when spending is most effective. This is fixed by providing minimum funding for any party with membership exceeding some threshold. This is actually the present state of affairs and got our Pauline into some trouble a few years ago. So our friends in the Libertarian Party get given enough money to place a modest number of prominent ads and at least add to the diversity of the public discussion.

The third issue is the status of party membership fees. They are really donations but are not paid with any possible expectation of favour. So let’s exempt these fees, recognising that this may be open to some manipulation. So the state is not funding the monthly meetings of the local party branches who are both willing and able to supply their own International Roast.

I expect many people, Troppo commenters included, will be immediately hostile to the notion of banning voluntary money flows in favour of funding from consolidated revenues. But I reckon I have heard most of the counter arguments and most of these can be addressed by asking the following question, which I suggest you ask yourself before you comment:

Does your objection apply to the proposition that donations to high court judges should be banned?

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Patrick
Patrick
15 years ago

I’m fine with banning donations – but what do you then do with political advertising, which need not be a donation but can be very (very very) helpful?

Allow all and any as long as it is clearly attributed, and then if XZY Ltd wants to spruik for the ABC party they can do so to their heart’s content as long as they don’t mind being publicly associated with their spruiking?

Which sounds eminently reasonable to me.

But the thresholds are important – in Germany, for example, they are the overriding isssue for most smaller parties. Another one is those party membership fees – what if ABC party sets up DEF thinktank which charges corporate memberships at about $150,000 pa? And then advertises on behalf of their ideas, which oddly enough reflect those of ABC party, and odder yet, are favourable to the corporate members of DEF?

But I like the basic idea, which is not so surprising because I often agree with Janet Albrechtsen :)

Jc
Jc
15 years ago

It’s shocking idea. In fact it’s a frightening idea. It would trample on the right of free association and what we can do with our money. It would prevent smaller parties from gaining access, while consoildating and freezing the power arragement of the big parties.

I’m surpised Janet supports this. Maybe there’s something in the air in the ABC boardroom.
If the unions wish to fund the Labor party, that should be fine with everyone and a supporter of civil liberties would not have problem with this.

You want to cut influence in politics. Cut out the money that goes to Canberra.

In fact the best thing to do in this climate is to actually deregulate the whole thing, by not having any laws regarding political donations etc.

Chris Lloyd
Chris Lloyd
15 years ago

Patrick. Your comments about thinktanks are precisely what I meant when I said “recognising that this may be open to some manipulation.” To some extent I think these sort of abuses could be monitored by the electoral commision. But you are basically correct that limiting the funding the parties does not, by itself, stop vested interests having undue influence on the political process.

JC: I addressed the issue of small parties. I do not think they would fare so badly. Most of your comment fails the test I invited you to make in the last sentence of my post…

(Banning donations to high court judges) would trample on the right of free association and what we can do with our money. …If the unions wish to fund (high court judges), that should be fine with everyone and a supporter of civil liberties would not have problem with this….You want to cut influence in (the judicial system). Cut out the money that goes to (the courts)… In fact the best thing to do in this climate is to actually deregulate the whole thing, by not having any laws regarding (high court judge) donations etc.

Jc
Jc
15 years ago

Of course you can’t brib judges, chris. That’s not free association that’s a criminal act. It’s not even clsoe to a good analogy. It’s not free association to bribre a judge. It’s called breaking the law.

Some judical systems in America elect judges who have to campaign and take donations for the effort. There is nothing wrong with that. Its certainly closer than the example you gave.

I’m not adverse to seeing high court juadges being lected ratther than appointed by the government.

Jason Soon
Jason Soon
15 years ago

I’m with JC on this. I don’t know why you think your analogy is some sort of killer argument. It would be no more powerful if you asked whether bribing a public servant or a cop is alright.

A judge and a cop have a contract with their employer – the public sector. They get paid a salary. If you give a judge of your acquaintance a Christmas present the law has no business stopping you from doing that. But if they can show that the present was for the explicit purpose of influencing a judicial decision that’s a different matter. Essentially the payment then becomes a means of inducing the judge to breach his or her contract.

A political party is a voluntary association that wishes to garner votes to get its members into Parliament. When it gets its members into parliament. It has particular selection processes for deciding who gets to stand for parliament on its behalf. When these members get to parliament they then get paid a salary and sign a contract and become public servants too. The fact that they continue to belong to a voluntary association that continues to solicit donations for its own activities and these members are implicitly also subject to selection procedures in these parties means what and how is it relevant to the intention to bribe a judge? A loose analogy and not even a particularly good one.

Jason Soon
Jason Soon
15 years ago

BTW The fact that Albrechtsen advocates this doesn’t surprise me. She’s not a particularly principled or big picture thinker. That’s why she’s a conservative rather than a libertarian.

Chris Lloyd
Chris Lloyd
15 years ago

I certainly don’t think bribing a judge is the same as donating to a party. This is not the point I am making. I am making the logical point that if your argument can be applied with apparently no logical inconsistency against the proposition that bribing judges should be banned, then your argument is probably not one you want to make. Logic 101.

Jc’s assertions that a ban “tramples on the right of free association” and “it is best to deregulate the whole thing” are a case in point. There is a problem of public servants serving the donors rather than the public, which is the issue to engage with – as Patrick has done. Argue that the costs would outwiegh the benefits or that it would set up perverse and unintended incentives. I will listen. But your comment that bribing judges is bad because it is illegal is completely circular. Really. Try to do better.

I remember getting myself into trouble at a party once in an argument about gay marriage. The argument being used – I forget what it was – applied with equal force to the notion that you should be able to marry an animal. Before you know it I was being accused of equating homosexuality with bestiality. But the whole crux of my position was that bestiality is not really OK whereas homosexuality is. So if you are going to come up with an argument in favour of homosexual marriage it should distinguish between the two cases.

Jc
Jc
15 years ago

Chris

How could you equate bestiality to homsexuality? It’s another shocking admission from you.

Back to the story. Look, you need to distinguish what is a bribe and what is a political donation. The act and intent is different. Handing over money to a judge to pervert the course of justice is a crime.

A political donation on the other hand helps a politician communicate his message to the voters. The money for this should never come from tax proceeds. What you are suggesting is that we pay ourselves to advertise to ourselves the political message an aspiring politician wants to get across.

Corruption is there because there is so much money floating round the system. Reduce the treasure and you reduce the potential for corruption.

david tiley
15 years ago

Ban political advertising on television. By anyone.

Ideas are not soap powder. A vision for the future is not a fizzy drink.

Can you think of a single television advertisement that was actually constructive in forming opinions?

We came close to this position but the Dems had another one of their unfortunate brainfarts and decided it was an infringement of free speech.

Seriously, it was a bad moment for democracy, which at one stroke even made it harder for them to get elected.

Jc
Jc
15 years ago

“Ban political advertising on television. By anyone.”

But why? Do you want the stations to simply filter it for us? No thanks. You are automatically giving the media far more power than they deserve.

“Ideas are not soap powder. A vision for the future is not a fizzy drink.”

But not all advertising is done by Coke. Is see lots of good smart ads that tempt me.

“Can you think of a single television advertisement that was actually constructive in forming opinions?”

Yes. Often.

“We came close to this position but the Dems had another one of their unfortunate brainfarts and decided it was an infringement of free speech.”

Well, it was one of the few times they did the right thing.

I want to hear from the parties. Even when they’re are trashing each other. its’s informative.

Advertising is a great thing as it allows the message to get across from the buyer to the seller. Turn it off if you don’t like it, but you shouldn’t infringe on my rights to listen to advertising if you don’t like it.

SJ
SJ
15 years ago

Ban political advertising on television. By anyone.

But then you need to define what exactly political advertising is. Are ads explaining the government’s latest changes to Medicare or Workchoices political or informational? What about ads explaining a change to the road rules – political or not?

Jason Soon
Jason Soon
15 years ago

Nothing circular there, Chris. You challenged people to argue against your analogy between donating to a judge and donating to a political party. That’s how I read it. And I did. That was the sole purpose of my commentary. As for the positive reasons, I think JC has summed them up quite while already.

SJ
SJ
15 years ago

As for the positive reasons, I think JC has summed them up quite while already.

I don’t really see corporate run feudalism as being positive.

SJ
SJ
15 years ago

Nothing circular there, Chris.

Actually, your argument relies on a false distinction that you’ve made.

You say that a political party is a voluntary association which should be allowed to take money from whoever it wishes, whereas a judge has a contract with an employer.

In essence, you say that political parties are principals but judges are merely agents.

That runs counter to the concept of representative democracy. Elected politicians are supposed to be agents, not principals.

Jc
Jc
15 years ago

As usual Sj makes perfect sense.

It may be worthwhile explaining what this comment means to us normal people.

“I don’t really see corporate run feudalism as being positive.”

What is corporate feudalism? Is this an example of someoen throwing a bunch of words together hoping it rings a bell in people’s minds?

SJ
SJ
15 years ago

Joe Says:

What is corporate feudalism?

Corporatism.

Jc
Jc
15 years ago

Oh come Sj

There’s plenty of ads that could be useful, Sj. Even for you. Take the ad I have been listening to everytime I jump in a car. The ad tells how men ( possibly someone like you) may find it hard to get an erection. It’s selling an inhaler that a person could use (possibly you) that helps get a hard on in no time.

Now someone who may not have known that ( possibly you) would find such an ad very useful as you wouldn’t have to go without the enjoyment of having sex. It’s not a pill that you may have tried previously that takes a long time in get it on, so to speak. This inhaler is supposed to work immediately which allows both you and your partner instant impulsive gratification.

That’s a great example of an informatioive ad that could you or anyone else with rerection issues may solve with as little as oistenign to a radio ad.

Jc
Jc
15 years ago

sorry bout the non edit. hope you can make it through.

Jc
Jc
15 years ago

Corporatism?

So you’re saying we are in a state of corporatism these days. How so Sj?

I’m very interested to learn about this new status we find ourselves in.

SJ
SJ
15 years ago

That was an impressive demonstration of the power of your intellect, Joe.

david tiley
15 years ago

On the definition of political advertising – yes, those government “explanations” are just propaganda. They don’t “explain” anything, they just make you feel good about the government. They are not part of an awareness campaign cooked up by a government instrumentality which realises they are necessary. They are there because some spin doctor reads the results of focus groups.

Our toleration of public lying slowly increases, and this deceitful crap is part of the reason.

“Chop down a tree, help the forest….”

Etc.

Jc
Jc
15 years ago

Sj
I’d be battling to get to your lofty standards. Seriously, i’m very impressed.

Could you explain to us this corporate thing of yours Sj. I’m really interested in getting to the bottom of this as you have got me worried about all these corporatists pulling these strings. tell us….

Jc
Jc
15 years ago

David

But aren’t you proving that you know the difference between what is crap and what isn’t with your recent comment?

If the ad maker makes a bad ad they are in danger of throwing off their target audience.

Take the recent ads by Bracks attempting to paint Baileau as a dishonest, Toorak living ( he doesn’t) silver spoon fed creep. It isn’t resonating with the audience I think. They have made a big mistake with these ads because Ted doesn’t come across like that.

On the other had the libs ad plastering the lie about the Freeway tolls does hit home because it reminds people of the lie.

It is important we get these messages….certainly worth listening to.

Oz
Oz
15 years ago

Wasn’t there a High Court case about a challenge to an attempt to legislatively limit political advertising in the 90s? I’ve heard about it but don’t recall much about it other than the High Court striking down the limitation as an infringement of freedom of expression. So even if we wanted to ban political advertising, we probably can’t.

david tiley
15 years ago

I don’t know about the High Court case.

The arguments against political advertising are

a) it wastes a lot of money on an arms race between pollies

b) the cost shuts out smaller parties

c) it reduces policy to sound bites – why do you think “tuff on crume’ got to be so important?

d) it demeans the whole political process.

It’s not worth having; politicians actually behave worse than they really are; they do have an effect in defining the issues by a nagging drumbeat of repeated slogans.

SJ
SJ
15 years ago

David, my difficulty with a ban on political advertising is that it I suspect it would hand the advantage to whichever government happened to be incumbent.

Jc
Jc
15 years ago

So David.

Your choice then ends up with the media potentially holding the keys to office. Id that what you want to happen?

SJ
SJ
15 years ago

The problem is not that politicians can receive donations in exchange for favourable treatment. The problem is that they have the power to grant favourable treatment.

Yeah, yeah. Bring on the anarchy/corporate overlords/whatever. Grow the f**k up.

Chris Lloyd
Chris Lloyd
15 years ago

OZ: The ALP’s Nick Bolkus tried to limit political advertising and it was stopped by the high court. I wonder if the advertising agencies were allowed to pay for complete refurbishment of the high court building, first class airfares for the judges and “conferences” in Biarritz or the Bahamas whether that high court decision might have been held to be just a little bit smelly. Or whether judges and the justice system might be held in low regard, say as low as polticians…

Much as I hate political advertising – indeed all advertising – it would obviously be unworkable to ban it. For a start, Fox is just a 24/7 ad for the GOP. Some would say that the ABC is a long ad for the Greens. It is just impossible to define what a political ad is. And we sure don’t want to stop people talking about politics.

david tiley
15 years ago

Hmm.. interesting.

On the incumbency issue – I think the incumbency advantage is amplified more by TV advertising. The ruling party uses government advertising to make its case – and that should be banned too.

No, I don’t think banning political advertising on TV hands control to the media – it focuses the campaign on the press, on outdoor advertising and now on the internets.

What can happen on TV is a series of set speeches by politicians, addresses to constituents. A common idea.