Monday, February 25, 2008

Cash, politics and corruption

“In the human race always put your money on self-interest; you can be sure it's the only starter always trying.” Jack Lang an infamous former Premier of NSW

Political endeavor, as we well know, is rife with self-interest and corruption, even it this wasn’t Lang’s primary target. There is a clear obscenity in the vast amounts of money poured into campaigns, but a greater obscenity when narrow interest groups can buy political favours.

Our friend over at updateamerica often raises the concept of MOOP (Money out of Politics) as an essential and basic reform if we are to regain functional democracies. I agree entirely, but always with the knowledge that the inherent self-interest is always the major hurdle.

Of course self-interest can also be used to drive this kind of reform. Lang’s state of NSW is now facing a major electoral funding scandal and there is a level of self interest in curtailing certain kinds of corporate ‘donations’. In this case the clear target is construction and development.

But not, I might add, the wider problem of business buying favours. The self-interest has not yet flowed across to the wider concept, just the one specific errant sector. True this is a rich seam of corrupt cash for local and state governments, but not the only one.

We have seen in the past that gambling, technology supply, taxi and transport, energy supply and of course procurement are all capable of being milked for vast sums of crooked cash. The story is similar with Federal governments, especially with big ticket procurement, technology and international trade.

Canada’s tough election donation laws are a great model on the vote buying level, but even there money buys influence, as we witnessed with the sponsorship scandal. Political, public sector corruption is a Hydra. You can sever one head and another is ready to take its place.

Taking the cash out of politics will never be an easy task; the key has to be creating a level of self-interest that discourages corrupt practices. It’s difficult to envision more laws achieving that when existing laws are so easily ignored.

Perhaps a new wave of thinking personified by Australia’s Rudd and the US’s Obama could conceivably drive change by driving a different public expectation of political behaviour. It is only when we, the people, refuse to accept corruption in the public sector that it will become an imperative for the self-serving to comply.


TomCat said...

In the US, an incumbent Senator or Representative needs to raise about $7,000 per day, seven days a week, 365 days a year for their entire term, just to finance their campaign to hold office. A challenger seeking to unseat an incumbent needs to raise almost twice that. That is why incumbents rarely lose, and why anybody who is not willing to sell out to the interests able to provide financing at those levels has virtually no chance at election.

Cart said...

Tom, I agree the high cost campaign seems entrenched. But I argue it is only entrenched because the people allow it to be.
Just seeing the number of younger people engaged in the process this year - and you and I are oddballs (over 50s) in the demographics - encourages me about the potential for people driven change.
We must keep showing the issues Tom, and encouraging those new to the political process to fight for reform.

abi said...

$7k a day - that's a lot more than what a heroin addict has to scrape together every day. And all the addict is going to do to raise the cash is maybe break into your house when you're not home. Politicians sell out the entire damn country to get their daily fix.

Thanks for the mention, Cart.

TomCat said...

Cart, I fully agree. That's why I keep harping on public financing.