Aug 21, 2013

Money, politics and the campaign arms race: corporates outspend citizens

Australia's campaign donations regulations are among the most lax in the world. Freelance journalist Jacqueline Ning says despite political will for change it remains a largely unregulated area.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has flown in United States President Barack Obama’s digital strategist to help with his campaign and made an American-style appeal for donations. It begs the question: just how much has money got to do with campaigning and the democratic process in Australia?

Lots. Australia is even more laissez-faire than the US when it comes to politics, the media and money. In the US, foreigners can’t donate, the disclosure threshold is $200 and corporations should only donate a little over $30,000 through an intermediary committee. In Australia, anyone (corporations and foreigners included) can donate any amount. If it’s not more than $110,000, donors can remain anonymous. In fact, they can remain anonymous no matter how much they give, so long as it’s given to an “associated entity” of a political party.

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7 thoughts on “Money, politics and the campaign arms race: corporates outspend citizens

  1. klewso

    How much is Murdoch donating to his cause – the election of his Limited News Party – by way of the monetary value of such a positive PR campaign?

  2. ZA

    Arguably this is the most important article I have seen so far this election. However , despite strong controls in those other Anglo/English speaking Countries mentioned why is it that they still have an electoral outcome of more or less a 2 sided, 2 dominate party system?

  3. JohnB


    The answer to your question lies elsewhere. First Past the Post elections, as in Britain and USA, will always tend towards two party systems.

    It is only when alternatives such as multiple representative electorates (eg Senate elections) or preferential voting (eg House of Reps) are used that there is a real chance for emergence of third parties.

  4. Jacqui Ning

    John, wish I had your clear understanding of the system. I for one would like to find an idiot’s guide to the sliding scale of democracy (from representative, 2 party – to genuine multi-party – to direct referenda). I know Switzerland has a mix of referenda with representative. If you know of any online resources that are short & to the point, please post.

  5. JohnB

    Jacqui, I suggest that you start with Wikipedia. Try “electoral systems” or “voting systems”. I have not done so, but there’s sure to be plenty.

    The issue with 2-party systems is that the alternates are essentially extreme polarity (eg Tea Party Republicans) or extreme similarity (eg centre of the road Republicans Vs moderate Democrats, or the Australian federal tendency to copy each other’s policies (Liberal/Labor).

    Note, however, that the Nationals espouse very parochial policies during elections, then stay silent for the next three years. The Coalition of Lib/Nat is a marriage of convenience only.

    IMHO, the agrarian socialist Nationals survive federally as a party only because they are an essential adjunct to the Libs in the Senate, where the pretence of States’ rights gives the hayseed electors somewhere to vote that is not from the hated capital cities i.e not Green, Liberal or Labor.

    BTW, I don’t live in a city – I live on a small farm, miles outside a country town, with a good friend as my local state representative. And he is a National. We don’t often talk politics.

  6. Jason Best

    Jacqui, there is a Youtuber named CGPGrey who did a great series called ‘Politics in the animal kingdom’ which gives a really good explanation of the differences between various methods of democracy and their respective problems.

  7. JohnB

    Jason, I have just viewed CPGG’s four clips. They are interesting, but have some of the details confused.

    For example, the Alternative Vote section of CPGG’s U-tube series. It is not correct, because it moves all of the eliminated candidate’s votes to a single recipient, whereas in practice they are distributed in accordance with the elector’s instructions (preferences). That is why it is called Preferential Voting in Australia.

    Regarding the Kiwi MMP system, there are a great many possibilities when it comes to design of an MMP voting system. The major problem is that there is no guarantee that any of the second half of the elected members will be local, ie from a particlar elector’s electorate, so it only goes part way toward the ideal.

    Second, by allowing the parties to select the order of their candidates, it is open to corrupt back-door deals. A better option would be for a party’s candidate with the highest popular vote to be declared the winner of the next seat, thus cutting the party shennanigans down to a minimum.

    Third, it results, as in the example, in a bloated assembly with more members.

    Fourth, it may, as in NZ, result in segregation of voters (electors) into classes. The Maori seats in the NZ government are such a class. There are arguments for and against, however I tend towards favouring a classless society, where everybody’s vote is equal and everybody (and their grandkids, etc) is neither discriminated for or against.

    The Hawaiin islands are deeply racist in the way that they are governed, with the rules varying from island to island. At one extreme lies broad areas where >50% native ancestry is a condition for residence and for real property (land) ownership. One result of this can be exclusion of a wife and children from their home, village and school immediately upon the death of the father, if his death leaves only <50% native family members. This is not uncommon, for example if the father is 62.5% native (5 great grandparents)and the mother is 25% native (2 great grandparents).

    I am from a family whose heritage and countries of birth include China, Northern Ireland, England, Latvia, Germany, Italy, Greece, Russia (Pre WWII), Australia, Lebanon and NZ.

    Citizenship and voting rights are extremely precious, so every effort should be taken to ensure that every citizen's vote is fully and equal to every other citizen's.

    Of course, that means that I favour the common Australian electoral systems over FPTP. Unfortunately, Australia is a Commonwealth of States, with a couple of Territories added on, so the value of our votes in the Senate are skewed in inverse proportion to population, but that is a small price to pay. If the alternative was a single Federal House of Parliament with no Senate and FPTP single Member electorates of equal population, the result would be very much less fair.

    Australia is (federally, at least) pretty much free of gerrymandering of electorates, due to the existence of an electoral boundaries commission which is essentially free of political interference.

    In short, Australia's electoral systems may not be perfect, but they are the envy of a large portion of the world.

    I will let your comment in favour of Swiss popular democracy go with only one comment: We are lucky not to have such a thing, because decisions made en masse on the village green are going to resemble FPTP in their outcome.

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