Ballots rather than dollars  

“Very few people give big money out of love for democracy; they give it because it gets them access and influence to protect or obtain what they need and want out of ….”Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington, D.C.based research and public education organization specializing in the documentation of federal campaign contributions.

 Whatever the outcome of the 2018 elections, we note that it will be conducted in an electoral environment which favours those with the ability to raise large sums of money. A healthy and vigorous democratic system depends on strong competition between political parties, and in today’s environment, every political party needs financial resources to run their routine day-to-day operations, and to undertake its election campaign. That, of course, is not to suggest that a huge war chest necessarily means electoral victory.

 However, access to political funds enables winners and losers to penetrate the private media, enabling them to have their message heard, engage the services of pollsters and advertising companies and public relations firms, employ scrutineers, hold public meetings whether localised or national and so on.

 Research globally has shown that during an election period, the bulk of political money is allocated to the advertising budget, and in the region to the purchase of t-shirts and other forms of vote buying. So that the party with the biggest advertising and vote buying budget has a clear advantage.

 Of course, there are the naysayers and apologists who would argue that contributions to political parties is a form of freedom of expression. We should all have the same freedoms, then I argue. According to Ellen Miller of the Centre for Responsive Politics, “The notion therefore that money equals representation in the speech is nonsensical. Since money is not evenly distributed, to have money be the determining game which is so factor of whose voice gets heard and how loud to gets heard is counter to our very basic democratic principles” (Sic).

 In the absence of a modern piece of legislation on elections and party financing, unfortunately, money rather than votes partly and sometimes overwhelmingly determines who gets elected and, ultimately, the public policies our parliamentarians enact. And given our model of government, it is really the party that wins the elections, the Cabinet and a select few individuals who are critical to the public policy formulation of the party.

 In Barbados, the only formal proposal for campaign reform resides in the 2012 un-proclaimed Prevention of Corruption Act which in any event fails to deal with the corrupting influence that private money (and undoubtedly big money) has over the political process. We know that given the limited membership of political parties and the fact that many citizens do not contribute to political parties, that it is big money in politics, along with self-financed candidates (I am aware of a few) that make a critical difference in success or failure. Furthermore, the Act makes no attempt to mitigate the natural political advantage of ruling political parties over their competitors.

 To be sure, we know that under Westminster in the Caribbean, there is not just a perceived homogeneity between the state and the ruling political party, it is real. That synergy is one which provides the incumbent regime with an unfair advantage over all other political parties, especially when it comes to access to State resources. And Barbadians have seen that natural synergies exploited to full advantage by all administrations whether BLP or DLP.

 The most recent example surrounds the refusal of the state-owned Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation to broadcast the address of Mia Mottley to party supporters and an interested public on October 28, 2017. This was not the case with the address of the Leader of the Democratic Labour Party, the Prime Minister. The fact is that the Prime Minister was delivering an address to his party and not the nation, and therefore that does not automatically qualify him for public broadcast.

 It must be reiterated that the party and by that I mean, the extra parliamentary party, is not the government and consequently ought to be treated in the same manner as all other parties in the country. But alas no! For the state broadcasting corporation,  the difference is immaterial. The campaign finance provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act 2012 therefore falls short in a number of important ways.

 To be continued…

Source: (Cynthia Barrow-Giles is Senior Lecturer in Political Science at the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies)

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