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March 17, 2008 | by  | in Opinion |
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Conrad Reyners for the EFA

When my overlord/whipping master/numero uno Jackson Wood pulled me out of my cage and ordered me to write a defence of the Electoral Finance Act I was appalled. The Act appeared indefensible; it was an offence, a dishonour to the glorious tradition of legislative lawmaking. But I am a courageous man… I will stridently endeavour to do what the Labour party couldn’t, and justify this Act of Parliament.

In a democracy there need to be rules that govern the electoral process and determine the sporadic movements of the political economy. The Electoral Finance Act helps to rein in the actions of third parties, who in the past have had a tangible impact on the way elections were won or lost. We all remember the insidious anti-Labour, anti-Green leaflets of the Exclusive Brethren in the 2005 campaign, and the effect they had on the collective voting conscience. Every group has a right to support their preferred political cause but the EFA asks, if they have such strong convictions — why not put their mouth where their money is, and be publicly named? They say you can tell a person’s character by the company he keeps – and the EFA is merely trying to embody this principle.

Secondly the EFA aims to stop the abuse of financial backers influencing elections. This principle is often misinterpreted. The economist Stephen Levitt argues convincingly that money does not wholly determine the winning candidate. If it did, Mitt Romney would be a still be in the running for the Republican nomination. What money does do is pay for a candidate’s publicity. It gets politicians’ ugly mugs out in front of out faces and in our thoughts — an unfortunate double edged sword for some.

While it is true that the amount of money spent doesn’t result in elections won, financial support does have an impact on the branding of candidates. Hugh would proclaim that this is irrelevant — people should be “free to choose”. Unfortunately for Milton it’s a little more complicated than that.

Rational ignorance suggests that no voter makes an informed voting decision, and thus shouldn’t vote. But yet, individuals still do out of a sense of civic duty. So what helps form their opinions? Most usually it is advertising and saturation branding — keeping your name in the head lights bright enough, or long enough to make your candidacy relevant. The only way to do this during an election year is to have strong financial backing. Money doesn’t decide elections, but it does decide the tier one candidates — and in multi party races that’s fucking important.

It’s not all about money and power. The Government would have you believe that the EFA is promoting transparency in government. Personally, I think this is laudable. However any media lawyer would be able to tell you, there are serious concerns about how well this Act achieves this lofty aim — but it is worth mentioning that the protection of democratic principles is always an important concern of any legislative body.

The Act as it stands has major flaws, which betray the brevity and hurriedness with which the bill was constructed and debated. Any bill that needs 150 amendments before it is voted on needs to be sent back to the drawing board. But the Act does have a heart of gold. It’s just too bad a frightened, protective and self-indulgent Government wouldn’t let it shine.

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About the Author ()

Conrad is a very grumpy boy. When he was little he had a curl in the middle of his forehead. When he was good, he was moderately good, but when he was mean he was HORRID. He likes guns, bombs and shooting doves. He can often be found reading books about Mussolini and tank warfare. His greatest dream is to invent an eighteen foot high mechanical spider, which has an antimatter lazer attached to its back.

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