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Elections put focus on financing rules

The campaign for this year’s US presidential election is set to break all records for campaign financing. It is a system which allows big corporations and influential individuals with deep pockets and special interests to get an inside track on state contracts when the parties they have funded get into power.

A 2010 decision by the US Supreme Court, which ruled in favour of Citizens United vs the Federal Elections Commission, effectively prevents the government from blocking corporate spending, and that of trade unions and other groups and institutions, on elections campaigns.

“As a result,” reports the New York Times, “wealthy donors have been pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into the 2012 presidential and congressional elections, mostly in support of Republicans.”

In addition, billionaire campaign investors of the deep-pocketed variety, Charles and David Koch and Paul Singer among them, are lining up to pour millions into the campaign. So too can it be expected that Mitt Romney’s Mormon affiliation will trigger the very wealthy Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to generously fund the Romney campaign: the thrill of a group which accounts for less than two per cent of the American population having a president come from amongst its ranks will surely open the very fat pocketbooks of the Mormons.

On the other side, President Obama, who was able to attract mass public funding four years ago using communications technology, will have to bring unity and conviction to his camp if supporters are to raise and spend even more than they did in 2008 to keep him in office. Some indication of the enormous size of the spending is likely to come from this week’s Republican Convention, Tropical Storm Isaac or not.

Next week the Democrats will get a gauge of the level of funding to expect. In the circumstances, total campaign funding is likely to run into billions of dollars, with investors adopting the model of the power matrix: money-access-power. What is very interesting is the absence, so far of the voices which have argued for a long time that political investors are dominating election campaigns and putting candidates into the White House, the Senate and Congress and then expect to cash in on their investment.

Perhaps there is building a quiet acceptance that in a society where the “magic of the market” dominates life, it should be no surprise that corporate investment in the political party of the corporations’ choice is taking over and drowning-out all protesting voices.

In Trinidad and Tobago that stage has not yet been officially reached.

But, given the reality of even greater dangers of having corporations and powerful individuals wield inordinate influence over the electoral system in such a small and already bifurcated society, there needs to be a consciousness of such a risk.

The urgency of bringing a focus to this issue could not be sharper with a scheduled local-government poll due sometime next year; a Tobago House of Assembly election in the first quarter of 2013; and a general election constitutionally due less than three years from now. Political parties and commentators, including newspaper editorials, have been calling for new rules to place campaign financing within a framework that encourages transparency and accountability.

The argument has been that the electorate must know the sources of funding upon which campaigning parties call, and that such funding was given without the stated and unstated expectations of payback time, post-election. Without such a transparent system in place here, politicians will play the usual games against each other and over the electorate as they charge each other with depending on drug money and being in the pockets of big business.

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