Thursday, 18 August 2016

Anonymous Donations as Party Funding.

The perception that individuals and organisations donate to political parties in order to influence policy and/or receive honors makes the public, rightly or wrongly, view politics and politicians as self serving and corrupt.

In order to correct this, it has been suggested that parties should either be funded out of taxation or there should be a cap on the amount each donor can give.

I don’t think either of those two are satisfactory, and would like to suggest another alternative. Legislated anonymous donations.

Anyone wishing to donate above say £500, would have to send their cheque to the Electoral Commission nominating to whom it should go. Once a year, those donations would be passed on to the relevant party aggregated and without the names of the donors.

It should also be made an offense to let a party know, directly or indirectly you’ve made a donation, or colluded in this as a party official. The only possible reason you would want to make yourself known, would be to buy political influence.

Even if you did attempt to let yourself be known, there would be no proof you’d actually made that donation. It would be just your word. I therefore doubt any party officials would want to get involved, let alone pass on the message to politicians who actually influence policy and hand out the gongs.

Of course, there will always be those who seek to circumvent such rules. But that's isn't a legitimate argument, else we wouldn't have any rules or regulations. Making donations anonymous by law would draw a line, which people would then have to carefully weigh up the pros and cons before deciding stepping over.


Steven_L said...

But how would they know who to award the peerage to?

Ben Jamin' said...

@ Steven_L

It could force them to consider awarding peerages on merit couldn't it?

I'm not sure why the Queen herself doesn't appoint a board of advisers, and do it herself. Why get politicians involved?

Steven_L said...

On merit? Like she befriended the late Lord Grosvenor on 'merit'? "I say, he owns land, give him a peerage!"

Derek said...

That's actually a pretty good idea, BJ. I shall add it to my list of Things To Do When I Am Prime Minister.

Bayard said...

There are plenty of ways that rich people in want of a peerage or political influence can buy themselves one apart from being party donors. This rule is sensible, but would just remove one of the options. Of course said rich people are far too useful a source of party funds for it ever to be implemented. Turkeys and Christmas and all that.

Lola said...

Sounds like a plan. Do it now.

DBC Reed said...

@BJ This looks like a good idea.

Lola said...

DBCR Good Grief! We agree! :-)

Sobers said...

Wouldn't work, because how would you disentangle the unions from Labour? It works for private individuals making political donations direct to a party, but doesn't for collective bodies - how would a union be able to ask its members who it should donate to if donating was legally supposed to be secret? How could a union campaign for its political ideas, and support and donate to a party that supported those ideas without for all intents and purposes revealing who it donates its money to?

And if collective bodies are exempt, then the Tories (for example) can set up 'The Association of Tory Party Donors', who join, pay a membership fee to be a member, and then can donate to the Association who pass the money on to the aggregating body. But everyone would know who were ATPD members.

Ben Jamin' said...


Quite. Why else do unions give funds unless its to gain leverage over policy? It's no different from Lord Ashcroft.

Lets say my proposal started tomorrow. Ashcroft and the unions are still going to donate to the Tories and Labour. They are still going to have influence, even though know one knows 100% for sure they are donors or by how much.

But, over time this influence will weaken. Yes, people like Ashcroft and organisations like the unions may support a given political party,but unless a party knows for sure who is donating and by how much, they are far less likely to take any notice of threats and arm twisting.

Imagine you are a Union member. Why bother to tick to the donate X to Labour box, if the Labour party doesn't know for sure how much its getting from your union. You might as well send it in yourself. It therefore would gradually erode the ability of people like Ashcroft and the unions to hold sway over policy.

Or, quite simply, we could say that only individuals can donate. It would still be perfectly ok for the unions to canvas its members to donate to Labour. And Labour can still invite the unions to take part at its conferences etc.

The only reason Unions get away with doing it, is because Tory donors are getting away with it.

Of course neither Labour or the Tories will initially like my proposal, because they are both beholden to a few large donors.

However, I don't think in the long term, they'd have anything to worry about.

While the Tories and Labour would lose a few big name donors, this would give ordinary people more confidence in the political process and get involved in politics themselves, knowing they have an equal voice.

At the moment, why bother knowing people like Ashcroft and Len Mcclusky, have a stack of cash they can wave in front of the party chairman?

Mark Wadsworth said...


Sobers said...

What I'm saying there would be a two tier system. There would be private individuals who would be forbidden on pain of imprisonment of letting anyone know they had donated to a political party, and there would be collective groups (including companies and unions) who could still campaign for political parties and thus make their political donation directions very plain. Collective groups would also have to account for their donations - you can't just have the officers of the club or company deciding without the say so of the members, so that would have to be all out in the open.

If you are saying collective groups would be banned from donating to political parties, thats fine, but such an concept would obviously be fiercely resisted by the Left for obvious reasons, and many others for more libertarian reasons. It is rather against freedom of association and political action - if people aren't allowed to form political campaigning and fund raising groups, then thats quite a restriction of individual liberty.

Ben Jamin' said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ben Jamin' said...

@ Sobers

There a crucial difference between supporting a political view, and actively making it known that you've made a donation and how much it is.

There is nothing wrong with Lord Ashcroft being a member of the Conservatives, and spending all his time and energy campaigning on their behalf. Whats wrong is him using his money as leverage.

Just because a union supports Labour and urges it's members to tick the opt in box, is no guaranteed those members will. As long as the union is obliged to pass on any donations made and doesn't make it known what the sum, if any, of that donation is, there's no problem. There's no real leverage. They could tell their members not to donate anymore. But so what? They could do that if they weren't allowed to collect the donations in the first place.

What will happen is, that without knowing the amounts donated by whom, the current influence the unions and other big donors enjoy, will wither on the vine and die.

As to your point regarding the banning of groups donating? Why not? It's probably the easiest way of cleaning up politics.

The only reason people club together rather than donate as individuals must be use it as leverage.

You say this is an infringement of liberty. It is? What exactly is it infringing? People would still be allowed to form groups and campaign. Only that group could not collect and donate more than £500.

Any more than that, the individuals have to send it in themselves.

You can call that an infringement of liberty, but caps on donations, or funding from taxation are even worse. IMHO.

And just how free is our democracy when the like of Ashcroft wield so much unelected power?

Mark Wadsworth said...

BJ, agreed but having read the comments…

1. We'll have to sort something out for Trade Unions. They have to do accounts, which in the normal course of events include gross subscriptions as income and (Labour) party donations as expenses.

We'd have to change the rules so that the £ element of subscriptions which members want passed on to the (Labour) Party are passed directly to El Comm and do not show up in the accounts, nor a mention of how many members ticked the box.

2. Then there is Part 14 Companies Act 2006 which says that companies must disclose donations to political parties in their accounts and say which party. That would have to be changed as well.

Bayard said...

S, can you think of any good reasons why any group should want to gather up donations and donate them as one large sum, rather than encouraging the members of that group to make individual donations? The only reason that I can think of for the former is that those in charge of the group wish to use the money as they, not the members, see fit, which is a form of embezzlement.

Bayard said...

"It should also be made an offense to let a party know, directly or indirectly you’ve made a donation, or colluded in this as a party official."

I'm not sure that this would be necessary, for the reason you give below. When donations become anonymous, what is to prevent any Tom, Dick or Harry claiming to have handed over a large cheque?

Sobers said...

"can you think of any good reasons why any group should want to gather up donations and donate them as one large sum"

Yes - very simple, to gain leverage for their legitimate political aims. If you are campaigning for a certain outcome (a ban on hunting with dogs for example, perfectly legitimate political campaign) its not much use telling people to donate to party X, unless you can have some leverage over party X with the size of the donation you can command. How can an campaign say to a political party 'We've given you £X towards your policy of Y, and we'll give you more if you enact it' if they don't have a clue how many people have actually donated to X, given its illegal for the individuals to announce their donations? The individual donations don't have the effect that the aggregated ones do.

As I said, people banding together for political purposes has a long and honourable tradition in the UK, indeed the Labour movement is founded on it. If you abolish collective political campaigning/donations to parties that support your aims, then you are restricting the liberty of the people.

And anyway, all you'd create is what they have in the States, the Superpacs, whereby individuals put money in a pot and campaign for Party X without actually giving them any money, or being part of their organisation. Or is that going to be illegal as well?

Ben Jamin' said...


Arguing that people and organisations should be allowed to continued to buy political access, influence and honours, is perfectly reasonable. Democracy, after all, isn't all it's cracked up to be. Maybe money is a better way of allocating power? I sometimes think so myself.

However, on balance, I think having the likes of Ashcroft and the Unions in effect, blackmailing elected politicians is probably a bad thing.

Is it as bad as parties funded by taxes, donor caps or legislated anonymous donations? Not sure. But I think it could be.

Bayard said...

"'We've given you £X towards your policy of Y, and we'll give you more if you enact it' if they don't have a clue how many people have actually donated to X, given its illegal for the individuals to announce their donations? The individual donations don't have the effect that the aggregated ones do."

Assuming the individual donations are less that the upper limit, then all the individuals concerned can be quite open about why they are giving "I and all the other members of the "Anti-Foxhunting League" are giving our £250 (or whatever) to you to ban foxhunting". Also the head of the AFL can say to the Party , "We've got 2000 supporters who have pledged £250 each on average as donations if you can support a ban on foxhunting". Everyone knows where their money is going and the Party knows where its money is coming from. Most importantly, it is the individual members of the AFL who have the influence, not the leaders. Under the present system the leaders would have the half-million in their pockets and the pols would know that they are the ones to favour, sod what the members think. That way lies corruption.

DBC Reed said...

It might help to introduce some Luddism into all this.An Electoral Commission should print and distribute manifesto summaries, of Edstone length and no illustrations, for all the parties, and pay for an equal number of TV ads, poster sites and a newspaper adverts, all of the same length and factual content. Small parties to get the same treatment as long as they had a full roster of deposit -paying candidates.No party political broadcasts whatsoever. Parties wishing to write a full manifesto and lie extensively could prepare them for the Net.
This might help to deal with the political bribery issue from the supply side.