Friday, January 05, 2007

Money out of politics? Pigs might fly

Dear Abi

I was doubtless, a naïve young bloke when I had my first run in with the influence of money in electoral campaigns. Well not so naïve that I didn't understand that contesting an Australian House of Representative seat for a new minor party required miracles more than cash to ensure success.

My main aim was to support a more feasible senate campaign and with a mortgage and a young family money wasn't to be thrown at a windmill tilting exercise willy-nilly.

We chose to go another route, with a colourful people campaign and an expenditure of about $1100.

Don't laugh, the incumbent, a government minister, alleged on the required expenses return that he spent nothing - zero - zilch. The major opposition opponent was said to have spent $200. Thos sums covered tee shirts, buttons and all the other paraphernalia of elections.

So my honest, if miserly expenses statement was quickly picked up by the media. Would I be prosecuted for overspending? Not bloody likely, that might put the spotlight on all those fraudulent returns. But it did create a media buzz for a while.

The point to this story, (my introduction to (MOOP) taking Money Out Of Politics, a subject dear to your heart Abi,) is that the newly elected parliament decided to simply get rid of the annoying expenses reporting provision.

Politicians 1 - Cartledge 0

But it gave me a quick appreciation of how the system really works; those who frame the laws will look after their own interests first.

Some years later - while I was in that Rip Van Winkle land of a growing family and bigger mortgage, the clever Australian legislators came up with a MOOP inspired goldmine; if the people pay for the elections... It is possible that some of those who supported the introduction of publicly funded elections even saw some virtue in the proposed scheme.

But look at the key mechanics of it: Money would be doled out after each election against election expenses claims!

Two things here. First these were the same people who could previously run a campaign with no apparent cost at all. But suddenly campaigns became big ticket items, the bigger the better.

Second, money still had to be raised and spent before it could be claimed. It offered no safeguard against politicians being bought, but it also failed to require that donations were taken off the final sum claimed from the public purse.

Even under this system the major parties consistently rack up major debt in Australia. I would suggest that a second part of any attempt to take money out of politics should be designed and regulated by a fully independent body. I also suggest we all be on the lookout for flying pigs!

But for all that the issue does need a lot more consideration. There are ways, mechanisms which would deliver better results, given all the right circumstances.


abi said...

MOOP that I am, I'm going to hold on to my dream. Taking the money out of politcs won't be easy, but it falls a little short of trying to make pigs fly. And I don't know any other way to put an end to what you call the "entrenched political/ corporate juggernaught." Nothing of substance can change until we get rid of it.

We've been conditioned to believe that political campaigns have to be expensive. But they don't.

Campaigns are based on the communication of ideas and information (at least, they should be), and this is the information age.

Here are some ideas:

* If voters want to learn about the candidates' platforms, it's as easy as going to their web sites. I pay under $12 a month for my site. Blogger is free.

* Newspapers and broadcasters have a responsibility to inform the public, and they should do so as a public service.

* Restrict how much a candidate can spend on an election, including the candidate's own money.

* Restrict the length of campaigns -- weeks, not years.

* Ban political contributions by any entity except individuals.

* Ban political advertising.

* Ban paid lobbying.

GORN said...

Is there a significant difference in the numbers given that Australian citizen's are fined if they dont vote, compared to North American countries who don't have that enforcement?

I gather it would have to be a percentage done by ratio. I am just curious if it were law, then why would it need all the expensive attention?

Cartledge said...

Abi, don't be pushy :) I'm getting there. In fact I will launch off your excellent list.

Gorn, so far as the 'GOTV' you are right. But without compulsory voting there is a supposed need to get voters out.
I guess what we should be looking at is whether that is a function for political candidates or of electoral authorities.
But GOTV can be and is manipulated.

Lew Scannon said...

The corpocracy will always find a way to get their money (and thereby their meathooks) into politics. Change the rules and they will find a way to skirt them. While the idea of using the 'net is intriguing, there are till many people out there who aren't connected (hard to believe, I know) to the internet who would be lost because of it.

Cartledge said...

Lew, if I as one of those American defense attorneys I would pull that argument double quick.
But I'm faced wit a real hard arsed prosecutor her with Abi.
I'm working on it - not rebuttal per se, more a strung out on the probabilities.

abi said...

Lew, if the Internet were the only way to deliver info cheaply, I'd agree. But it isn't. Everyone has TV and radio. Everyone has access to newspapers.

C'mon-c'mon, cartledge. I'm waiting for you. ;-)