The big attraction of businessmen to politicians is their capacity to deliver the money that enables the politicians to deliver the votes that enables them to run the campaigns that keeps them in a job. And never has this been better demonstrated than in Britain where the sordid influence of fund raising has been exposed by a police investigation that makes any misuse of a printing and postal allowance by an Australian politician seem very small scale indeed.
What has been exposed to public view in London is the payment of millions of dollars to political parties in a form that avoided public disclosure and the rewarding of donors by the Labour Government with peerages and other so-called honours.
For the Government it has been quite embarrassing with The Guardian, this week publishing an article on its front page accusing Lord Levy, Prime Minister Tony Blair’s principal fundraiser, of seeking to “shape” the testimony given to the police in the case by Ruth Turner, the prime minister’s director of external relations.
Lord Levy is the principal person under investigation by police for organizing the fund raising scam. According to the Guardian, police have been investigating whether Ms Turner was being asked by Lord Levy to modify information that might have been of interest to the inquiry. Officers have been trying to piece together details of a meeting they had last year.
Ms Turner gave an account of it to her lawyers and this has been passed to police. It is this legal document and the exchange between Ms Turner and Lord Levy that has been at the heart of the inquiry in recent months, and which, the paper said, prompted the focus to shift from whether there was an effort to sell peerages to whether there has been a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.
In Australia, where we have no peerages for politicians to hand out and the honours system at least offers some elementary checks and balances, the return on investment for businessmen donating company funds must take another form. There is the obvious one exposed for all to see in Western Australia – improved access to the politicians before they make decisions. And then the personal perk of appointments to the myriad boards and advisory committees of government instrumentalities.
Perhaps we should draw up a list of which donors have places on which boards. Send your suggestions to [email protected].