Wednesday, September 10, 2008

all that distance reconciled

Amidst all the kerfuffle around Winston Peters' funding arrangements, I thought I'd ruminate on my preferred way of funding political parties.

Being a wishy-washy that socialist it behoves me to be reflexively attracted to the idea of taxpayer funding and disapproving of the possibility of elections being defacto bought by that malign club of dark, smoky businessmen with the largest cheque books. On the other hand I'm not too much in favour of parties being able just to vote themselves an amount of money, which seems to be somewhat a conflict of interest and an enticement to foul corruption. With that in mind, public donation to political parties seems to be a much better system, since funding will follow party support more closely in between elections, rather than being at the whims of the winners of the last election - as long as you have a way of weighting those donations those rich individuals do not have disproportionate power than their citizenship should imply.

And so, naturally, I suggest a compromise - try to combine the best of the two systems - remove the sluggard money-men from the temple of democracy, but make sure to replace it with a democratic alternative.

My proposal would be for each taxpayer (i.e. any single person - no companies - who has paid a positive amount of income tax in the financial year) would get the opportunity to allocate a fixed amount to their party or parties of choice. For arguments sake I'll say $10 per financial year. It doesn't sound a lot, but multiply that by the number of taxpayers involved and the money involved could be reasonably significant. And political parties would have an incentive every year to be on their best behaviour, otherwise it hits them in their campaign budget. And if you really wanted to twist the knife, you could have an option for taxpayers to vote their contribution back to the Treasury - or their favorite government department - as a vote of no confidence ...

I think it is important to make it a flat-rate amount of money that citizens get to donate, rather than some pro-rata arrangement based on your taxable income - it creates an equalising effect, one-man-one-vote style, and it makes sure that political parties aren't pandering just to rich voters for the sake of campaign finance (as opposed to pandering to rich voters because that's the philosophical basis of your politics). And obviously, you would have to ban donations to parties outside of this system, and bolster that with a rigouous, and public, accounting of all party spending. Which leads me to my next point ...

This proposal unfortunately does nothing to solve the really big issue the Labour's EFA was supposed to crack down on - third party campaigning; in fact it would probably only exacerbate the problem, as there would be a lot of special interest groups out there with great gouts of money they would otherwise be giving to National the mainstream political parties suddenly free to float it out to extremists single-issue groups with a greater degree of autonomy and anonimity.

... but I have no smart answers for that issue, and more's to the point, I can't be solving all your fucking problems for you, ya lazy bastards.

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