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  • Peter Francis Fenwick

Banning Political Donations

Robert Nozick 3.jpg

A report in The Age, on Tuesday 30th June 2015, claims that the Liberal Party’s fund raising processes have been infiltrated by the Mafia to gain access to politicians and favourable decisions by ministers in relation to a visa for a gangland boss.

The immediate response has been to call for tighter controls over political donations. This however would have serious consequences in a liberal democracy. It would not stop the problem. Those wishing to influence political decisions will find ways around any and every regulation. Yet it would limit citizens from legitimate promotion of their political beliefs and ideologies.

To devise a satisfactory solution to any problem requires that we first gain a clear understanding of it. The problem here is not political donations per se. It is the scope of government. Over the past century we have gradually permitted the state to assume more and more control over our lives. In particular, we have succumbed to the idea that it is legitimate for the state to take from some members of our society and give to others – to rob Peter to give to Paul. Whilst this begins with the ideal of taking from the rich and giving to the poor, it soon degenerates into taking from those you dislike and giving to those you like, taking from those who do not vote for you and giving to those who do. It is ethically unsound.

Harvard philosopher, Robert Nozick, put it well:

Economically well-off persons desire greater political power, in a nonminimal state, because they can use this power to give themselves differential economic benefits. Where a locus of such power exists, it is not surprising that people attempt to use it for their own ends.

The illegitimate use of a state by economic interests for their own ends is based upon preexisting illegitimate power of the state to enrich some persons at the expense of others. Eliminate that illegitimate power of giving differential economic benefits and you eliminate or drastically reduce the motive for wanting political influence. [1]

Corrupt political donations will exist wherever politicians can be bought.

The solution is not to control political donations, but to control the limits on government and the limits on ministerial discretion.

[1] Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia

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