Banning political party donations

Since I last posted on political donations, the debate in NSW has escalated beyond disclosure to prohibition. The SMH was endorsing this route again yesterday. As usual, no serious consideration has been given to the likely consequences of such a move.

Arguably, in the Labor Party unelected party officials and conference delegates already have too much power over elected Labor MPs. They were trying again to exercise that influence at the NSW Labor conference yesterday. If ‘outsiders’ have less access to politicians, then the party insiders, in Labor’s case the unions, will have even greater relative influence. That is not to say that they will always get their way – politicians will usually be more concerned with the broader real-world and electoral implications of policy. But the insiders will proportionately get more of the decision-makers’ time.

But a ban on political donations won’t help political parties, even while it will help party power-brokers. Most of what parties do between elections is fundraising. Much of the social capital element of political parties would disappear without fundraisers. Already parties are suffering from not being able to give members enough to do, and this problem would worsen further if donations were banned. Parties would become quasi-state institutions, rather than being parts of civil society. Continue reading “Banning political party donations”