The Global Money Curse

The Global Money Curse

It's not just the United States that has found it almost impossible to regulate campaign contributions.

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“Financing Politics: A Global View” by
Michael Pinto-Duschinsky, in
Journal of Democracy (Oct. 2002), 1101 15th St., N.W., Ste. 800, Washington, D.C. 20005.

All around the free and quasi-free world, from Albania
to Zambia, there has been no shortage of political finance scandals in
recent years—and no shortage of ineffectual government measures to
prevent them. Pinto-Duschinsky, a senior research fellow in politics at
England’s Brunel University, argues that it’s time for a dose
of realism.

“Laws are one thing; whether they are followed is
quite a different matter,” he notes. “In country after country,
those investigating political financing receive the warning that laws are a
dead Consider, for example,
regulations requiring public disclosure of the finances of parties and
candidates. Of 114 countries on which information was available, 62 percent
had such regulations, yet scholars who have studied them, says
Pinto-Duschinsky, “have almost exhausted the vocabulary of contempt
in describing [their] ineffectiveness.” “Works of
fiction,” a specialist in France called them. About honest
disclosure, a scholar in Italy said, “Hardly ever happens.” “Just the tip of the iceberg,” said another, in Japan, about
the figures in the published accounts.

“Besides disclosure laws being ignored because of
lack of political will to enforce them,” Pinto-Duschinsky says,
“such laws are frequently evaded because they apply only to a limited
range of political payments.” Evaders simply use other channels, from
secret presidential slush funds (as in Zambia) to “party taxes” on public office-holders (as in many countries).

More than half of the 143 countries ranked
“free” or “partly free” by Freedom House in 2001
offer public funds to parties or candidates. But that’s no solution,
either. These subsidies “have clearly failed to cure the problem of
corrupt political funding,” observes Pinto-Duschinsky. Recipients, of
course, do not stop looking for other funds. “Some of the most
serious scandals have occurred in countries with generous public subsidies,
such as France, Germany, and Spain.”

Pinto-Duschinsky questions the conventional wisdom that
the money-gobbling demands of campaign television ads encourage a lot of
today’s chicanery. In many parts of Asia and Africa where televisions
are scarce, there’s no shortage of financial abuse, and even in the
United States, elections for hundreds of thousands of lesser posts occur
with TV playing little or no role.

Reformers, he concludes, should put “more stress
on the enforcement of a few key laws such as those on disclosure, and less
on the creation of an ever-expanding universe of dead-

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