When it comes to political parties, activist group GetUp! favours strictly regulating donations. Its principles include:
* Only individuals should be allowed to donate to political parties.
* Increase transparency requirements.
* Cap individual donations at a reasonable limit [they suggest $1,000 a year]
But when it comes to donations to GetUp! things seem to be rather different, as the SMH reported yesterday:
The union movement has emerged as a key financial backer of the advocacy group GetUp!, with six unions pouring more than a million dollars into its election purse in the past three weeks alone.
GetUp! has splashed nearly $1.5 million on TV advertising since the campaign began, meaning the unions have effectively supplied two-thirds of its advertising budget.
The organisation’s director, Simon Sheikh, refused to name the six unions yesterday, saying they wanted their identities kept secret until after donor returns are filed with the Australian Electoral Commission.
So this arrangement breaches all of GetUp!’s three principles: the donations are from organisations, they are not transparent, and they are uncapped. And by relying on just six donors to finance most of its campaign spending GetUp! is far more reliant on a small group of powerful donors than either of the main political parties.
Perhaps the distinction is that GetUp! cannot directly make government decisions, it can only influence them. But the ban on organisations and the caps on them seem aimed at limiting the political influence of big money, and in this context the distinctions between financing an activist group and financing a political party are not necessarily very important. They are both means of achieving political goals.
Right from the start of GetUp!, I have seen them as an entrepreneurial venture profiting from politics. There is a large group of people who want to feel that they are making a political statement and contributing to a political cause. Simon Sheikh and his senior colleagues are presumably well paid for delivering these services.
But it means we should be very cynical about GetUp!’s campaign to strictly regulate and limit its political party competitors for political donations, while hypocritically not applying the same principles to its own operations.