In defence of political donations

With this week’s disclosure of political donations by the Australian Electoral Commission, the usual critics were having their say. As he did last year, Stephen Mayne used Crikey to attack what he sees as an inherently grubby process – people giving money to political parties, including (shock, horror) foreigners, something that seems to particularly upset political funding moralisers not otherwise known for their nationalistic views.

In The Age another regular, Melbourne University law lecturer Joo-Cheong Tham complained that:

Money allows some to speak much louder than others. For example, businesses and wealthy individuals are able to secure influence over parliamentarians through the purchase of political access. In the last financial year, both Tabcorp and Tattersall’s gave $10,000 to Progressive Business, presumably for membership of the organisation. Membership of this fund-raising arm of the Victorian ALP would have entitled them to attend closed-door ministerial briefings by Premier Steve Bracks and Treasurer John Brumby. Such secret meetings give rise, at the very least, to an apprehension of undue influence and corruption.

As with other leftist critiques of the political process, Joo-Cheong Tham’s work (you can see his perspective in more detail at the ANU Democratic Audit project) fails to see the bigger picture of the political process. These issues arise mainly because because of politicised processes – in the case of Tabcorb and Tattersall’s because gambling is heavily regulated, and Tabcorp and Tattersall’s rely on government patronage to keep competitors out. If anyone could set up a gambling outfit there would be no need to listen to tedious speeches at Progressive Business functions or to give them any money. There probably wouldn’t be any funding to disclose.
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