Money in electoral politics: no small risk for democracy and fairness

Parliament house flag post
Australian cash and coins

Money in electoral politics: no small risk for democracy and fairness

Posted 4/04/2014 by Brenton Holmes

In 2010 the US Supreme Court ruled—in its controversial Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission decision—that there could be no restrictions on the amount of money that corporations and unions could spend on Federal political campaigns. As a result, nearly $1.3 billion flooded into candidates' official campaign accounts and nearly $6 billion was spent on campaigning overall. The the vast majority of the expenditure came from big special interest donors. The 2012 US election cycle was by far the most expensive in history.

Now, in another decision (McCutcheon vs. Federal Election Commission—which split the court 5–4 along ideological lines) the Supreme Court has struck down the federal cap on the total amount of money an individual donor can spend supporting candidates and political parties during a two-year election cycle.

According to activists and organisations such as the Sunlight Foundation a single wealthy donor could spread up to $3.6 million among candidates, party committees and some political action groups affiliated with a single party during a single election cycle. The ruling does not touch limits on the amount of money an individual can give to a single federal candidate, which currently is set at $US 2,600.

A dissenting judge, Justice Stephen Breyer argued that the ruling created a ‘loophole’ allowing rich donors to donate millions to candidates and parties, and that, coupled with the Citizens United decision, ‘eviscerates our Nation’s campaign finance laws, leaving a remnant incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy that those laws were intended to resolve’.

According to the Washington Times, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., in the majority opinion, said that while the government had an interest in preventing corruption of federal officeholders, individuals had political rights that include being able to give to as many candidates as they want, in order to show support. He was quoted as saying that ‘Money in politics may at times seem repugnant to some, but so too does much of what the First Amendment vigorously protects’, the chief justice wrote. ‘If the First Amendment protects flag burning, funeral protests, and Nazi parades — despite the profound offense such spectacles cause — it surely protects political campaign speech despite popular opposition’.

In Australia at the Federal level, although there are clear disclosure rules to be followed by parties and candidates, there are no caps on campaign expenditure. There is little concrete information available on how much is actually spent on election campaigns because since 1998 political parties have not been required to file expenditure returns that explicitly identify amounts spent on election-related items.

In the absence of facts there has been much speculation about campaign spending. In 2009, former ALP National Secretary Tim Gartrell estimated that the major parties had raised and spent about $80 million on the 2007 election.

On 20 October 2010, the Gillard Government introduced the Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Political Donations and Other Measures) Bill 2010. The 2010 bill did not seek to legislate for caps on campaign expenditure, but sought, among other things, to introduce a claims‐based funding framework informed by the principle of linking public electoral funding to actual electoral expenditure incurred. The bill lapsed, and there is no indication that the current Coalition government will introduce a similar bill.

The question of placing caps on electoral expenditure remains a key issue to be resolved in Australia.

The Rudd Government’s 2008 Electoral Reform Green Paper noted:

7.32       A ban or cap on private funding could substantially reduce political parties’ campaign funds, and potentially reduce their expenditure on campaigning. It could affect their current scope and scale of operations. This could mean that parties are unable to effectively participate in the election processes. The impact of caps or bans on public funding and the extent to which any adjustment to the amount of public funding would be necessary to political parties to ensure their viability would need to be considered.

In NSW, in 2010, the Keneally Labor government capped campaign expenditure and donations and the O’Farrell Liberal government pursued further reforms. In NSW both donations and campaign expenditure are capped.

In Queensland, where donations and expenditure were capped by the Bligh Labor government, the Newman government is poised to scrap them and to raise the disclosure threshold. University of Queensland professor and electoral law specialist Graeme Orr said the changes were ‘retrograde’ and ‘a backwards step for the key goals of political integrity and equality. … Unlimited donations risk political integrity … [and] power in Queensland has few enough checks and balances, given the lack of an upper house or bill of rights’.


Thank you for your comment. If it does not require moderation, it will appear shortly.
Facebook LinkedIn Twitter Add | Email Print

FlagPost

Flagpost is a blog on current issues of interest to members of the Australian Parliament


Parliamentary Library Logo showing Information Analysis & Advice

Archive

Syndication

Tagcloud

refugees asylum immigration Parliament elections Australian foreign policy climate change social security women welfare reform Indigenous Australians Australian Defence Force welfare policy school education higher education private health insurance Taxation health financing emissions trading Senate Australian Bureau of Statistics employment people trafficking statistics Middle East illicit drugs gambling health reform federal election 2010 income management Medicare disability Sport United Nations Asia constitution transport Australian Public Service politics criminal law Afghanistan health forced labour aid Australian Sports Anti-Doping Agency World Anti-Doping Agency United States federal budget Industrial Relations Carbon Pricing Mechanism dental health voting law enforcement electoral reform public service reform OECD Australian Electoral Commission WADA child protection environment poker machines Australia in the Asian Century steroids National Disability Insurance Scheme detention aged care 43rd Parliament slavery health system domestic violence parliamentary procedure International Women's Day accountability defence capability multiculturalism ASADA Australian Federal Police Fair Work Act governance labour force people smuggling debt international relations New Zealand food Australian Crime Commission pharmaceutical benefits scheme crime China regulation leadership Census election results UK Parliament Papua New Guinea banking corruption pensions children's health Aviation federal election 2013 foreign debt gross debt net debt Senators and Members ALP Newstart Parenting Payment Youth Allowance sea farers human rights violence against women vocational education and training military history by-election political parties High Court skilled migration mental health Federal Court terrorist groups science social media Higher Education Loan Program HECS federal state relations youth paid parental leave same sex relationships coal seam gas customs planning doping health risks Gonski Review of Funding for Schooling sex slavery Special Rapporteur Northern Territory Emergency Response social policy election timetable Indigenous royal commission Productivity United Kingdom firearms public policy Population ADRV terrorism transparency research and development welfare ASIO intelligence community Australian Security Intelligence Organisation carbon tax mining employer employee renewable energy regional unemployment fishing European Union family assistance United Nations Security Council Australian economy forestry food labelling Drugs welfare systems Indonesia children Constitutional reform local government codes of conduct terrorist financing homelessness Parliamentary remuneration money laundering Trafficking in Persons Report energy social inclusion paternalism sitting days electoral divisions Foreign affairs Southeast Asia administrative law universities TAFE Ireland citizenship asylum seekers early childhood education Canada Financial sector national security fuel disability employment Tasmania integrity standards NATO Australian Secret Intelligence Service sexual abuse World Trade Organization Australia public health housing affordability bulk billing water health policy Governor-General US economy trade unions export liquefied natural gas foreign bribery question time speaker superannuation public housing expertise climate Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry Pacific Islands reserved seats new psychoactive substances synthetic drugs UNODC carbon markets animal health middle class welfare constitutional recognition of local government referendum consumer laws PISA competition policy US politics language education baby bonus Leaders of the Opposition citizen engagement policymaking Australia Greens servitude Trafficking Protocol forced marriage rural and regional alcohol entitlements ministries Hung Parliament social citizenship maritime Iran ANZUS regional students school chaplains federal budget 2011-12 salary Medicare Locals primary care Building the Education Revolution prisons police deaths in custody electoral margins electoral pendulum electoral redistribution redistribution NSW redistribution WA redistribution ACT electoral boundaries ASEAN Sustainable Development Goals Double dissolution Senators safety vehicles ODA MYEFO Pathology tertiary education Taiwan Xi Ma meeting family violence government financial advisers financial planners Financial System Inquiry Murray Inquiry China; Economic policy; Southeast Asia; Africa housing Speaker; House of Representatives; Parliament Defence High Court; Indigenous; Indigenous Australians; Native Title ACT Indigenous education Norfolk Island External Territories emissions reduction fund; climate change child care funding refugees immigration asylum procurement Indigenous health e-voting internet voting nsw state elections 44th Parliament 2015 ABS Age Pension Death penalty capital punishment execution Bali nine Bali bombings Trade EU China soft power education Fiji India Disability Support Pension Antarctica Diplomacy by-elections state and territories Bills anti-corruption fraud bribery corporate ownership whistleblower G20 economic reform innovation Members of Parliament Scottish referendum Middle East; national security; terrorism social services Criminal Code Amendment (Misrepresentation of Age to a Minor) Bill 2013 online grooming sexual assault of minors ACT Assembly smoking plain packaging tobacco cigarettes Asia; Japan; international relations Work Health and Safety Migration; asylum seekers; regional processing China; United States; international relations fiscal policy Racial Discrimination Act; social policy; human rights; indigenous Australians Foreign policy Israel Palestine asylum refugees immigration political finance donations foreign aid Economics efficiency human rights; Racial Discrimination Act employment law bullying Animal law; food copyright Australian Law Reform Commission industry peace keeping contracts workplace policies same-sex marriage disorderly conduct retirement Parliament House standing orders prime ministers First speech defence budget submarines workers Somalia GDP world heritage political engagement leave loading Trade; tariffs; safeguards; Anti-dumping public interest disclosure whistleblowing Productivity Commission limitation period cancer gene patents genetic testing suspension of standing and sessional orders live exports infant mortality honorary citizen railways disciplinary tribunals standard of proof World Health Organisation arts international students skilled graduate visas temporary employment visas apologies roads Italy national heritage NHMRC nutrition anti-dumping Rent Assistance obesity evidence law sacrament of confession US presidential election international days DFAT UN General Assembly deregulation Regulation Impact Statements small business Breaker Morant regional engagement social determinants of health abortion Members suspension workplace health and safety marine reserves hearing Victoria astronomy resources sector YMCA youth parliament Korea rebate Australian Greens presidential nomination Racial Discrimination Act political parties preselection solar hot water Financial Action Taskforce Horn of Africa peacekeeping piracy Great Barrier Reef Stronger futures political financing political education Social Inclusion Board early childhood National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education and Care Murray-Darling Basin sanctions Norway hospitals republic President Barack Obama Presidential visits qantas counselling Korean peninsula Work Choices biosecurity hendra environmental law federalism federation preselection therapeutic goods Therapeutic Goods Administration plebiscites computer games pests suicide nuclear COAG Ministerial Councils floods ADHD stimulant medication advertising electricity extradition conscience votes poverty preventative health rural health coastal erosion Parliamentary Budget Office work-life balance

Show all
Show less
Back to top