The corruption of campaign finance laws

As the SMH reported this morning, the NSW government has announced plans for the nation’s most draconian campaign finance laws, including:

• Political donations from individuals, registered political parties and other entities will be capped at $5,000 to registered political parties or groups and $2,000 to candidates or elected members annually;
• A candidate’s campaign expenditure will be capped at $100,000 per electorate during a regulated period;
• Expenditure by political parties will be capped at $100,000 per electorate and this is in addition to candidate’s expenditure cap
• Third parties may not receive more than $2,000 from each donor in a financial year;
• Third parties may not spend more than $1.05 million in a regulated period or $20,000 per electorate

And indeed if you were running the nation’s most unpopular government six months before an election why wouldn’t you back a plan to limit how much money people can spend throwing you out?

Campagin finance reform is always presented as limiting the improper influence of private interests on public processes. In reality, it is an example of such improper influence – the major political parties using their parliamentary numbers to disadvantage their political rivals.

12 Responses to “The corruption of campaign finance laws

  • 1
    Alex
    September 21st, 2010 20:03

    Hey Andrew,

    I think we all know that there only a slim chance that Labor can retain government in NSW no matter how much they limit campaign finances. Maybe this will disadvantage themselves the next time they have a chance at winning a few seats.

    Just out of Interest I’d like to know what you think would be credible changes to campaign financing if any at all.

  • 2
    Andrew Norton
    September 21st, 2010 20:18

    I agree there is almost no chance of Labor retaining power. It is about trying to limit the damage and I think taking a long-term strike at 3rd parties.

    Positions on this seem to depend on whether you see the problem was some actors in civil society having too much influence on the state (most of the political class) or as the state having too much influence on civil society (my position). I don’t want to give the state a list of who finances its opponents (transparency) or put any constraints on the capacity of civil society to campaign for the removal of a government (the caps issue).

  • 3
    Joe
    September 21st, 2010 20:44

    And what about unions donating? Can each union also only donate $5000

  • 4
    Andrew Norton
    September 22nd, 2010 04:41

    Joe – That’s how I would interpret it.

  • 5
    Australian Tea Party
    September 22nd, 2010 11:12

    This is why MoveOn created GetUp – to circumvent the inevitable electoral reforms and provide a brownshirt or in this case orangeshirt army to chill free speech run “independent” adverts and so on.

  • 6
    Andrew Norton
    September 22nd, 2010 12:31

    Not really – GetUp! favours (albeit with some hypocrisy) similar laws, and they are a target of ‘third party’ provisions of electoral law.

  • 7
    lomlate
    September 22nd, 2010 21:29

    I quite like the idae of getup as a campaign finance vehicle. It will broaden the debate around elections if every lobby group suddenly finds itself more richer because you can’t donate money to the majors.

    The capping of funding to third parties is disgusting though. $100,000 limits on campaign spendings creates a nightmare of paperwork and receipts. Everything else I broadly agree with though

  • 8
    Andrew Norton
    September 23rd, 2010 04:15

    Lomlate – But the problem from the perspective of the political parties is that they can’t cripple themselves while leaving their third party opponents free to do whatever they want. Political parties would become shells and all campaigning would be via third parties.

  • 9
    Robert Wiblin
    September 23rd, 2010 13:19

    You might find this interesting Andrew. Makes Australia look A-OK.

    http://super-economy.blogspot.com/2010/09/sweden-is-more-politically-corrupt-than.html

  • 10
    Andrew Norton
    September 23rd, 2010 18:04

    Thanks Robert. It’s curious that the non-social democrat governments have not been able to break the financial link.

  • 11
    Alex
    September 23rd, 2010 19:12

    From what I’ve seen I don’t see anything limiting 20 organisations running on an issue instead of 1 organisation with 20x the funding, and a part from unions, the mining industry, and to a lesser extent GetUp and big Tobacco I haven’t seen actors outside of the political parties get involved.
    That Swedish integration is pretty confronting, made me wonder how much free space the Australian gives to anti-progressives and other effective subsidies on both sides elsewhere.

  • 12
    Andrew Norton
    September 23rd, 2010 20:09

    Alex – Groups get active when they are threatened by the state. This is my point on third parties – when the state inflicts serious damage on a group (as has happened to unions and the tobacco industry, and will happen to the miners) they are in my view entitled to throw everything into opposing it. I don’t expect many third parties to be continually active on a large scale, but the freedom to do so is an important part of society’s defence mechanisms against the state.

    The so-called subsidies to ‘anti-progressives’ by the Australian are not at all like the Swedish example, where laws give one side of politics a financial advantage. The Australian is a commercial entity that spends its own money.

    But your point highlights the fantasy nature of trying to construct a ‘fair’contest. All it does is displace contests to other forums, creating new justifications for the state to regulate them.