Wednesday, 14 March 2012

"How much is it costing

them to do all this?" the Senior Cat asked me. He was looking at yet another report of the American presidential nomination election campaign.
I was not expected to answer the question of course. We both know that there are vast sums of money being poured into that campaign.
There is an election campaign in Queensland right now as well. They go to the polls on the 24th of this month. Donations are being solicited and scrutinised and criticised more than ever before. The party in power at present is in danger of losing despite having the advantage of being in government and being able to use taxpayer funds to advertise their achievements. Yes, it is advertising even when it is dressed up as "informing". All political parties do it when they are in power.
There have also been several letters in the press recently about where the funding for election campaigns come from. Wealthy individuals are being heavily criticised for giving donations to the political party of their choice, usually the current Opposition. There has also been a rush to defend the right of unions to use the funds supplied by their members to support "their" political party. It is "their" party even though by no means all of them support it. Union membership is no longer supposed to be compulsory but the reality is that there are areas in which workers have no choice if they want a job. Others have been told that, should they leave the union they were once compelled to belong to, they risk losing their jobs. They stay and they "donate" to the party.
I have problems with donations to political parties of any sort. I know they need money to exist and to campaign but there is always the suggestion that individuals who give hefty donations might benefit - after all, why donate if you are not going to benefit? I also have a problem with union funds being used in this way.
As a tertiary student I was compelled to "belong to the student union". It was often quite an expensive business. At my last university the "union fees" were several hundred dollars.  The union was supposed to provide a range of student services - anything from counselling and child care through sports clubs, the student "bar" and market to the "newspaper" and a range of political activities. 
I never used any of these facilities. The counselling service was actually paid for by the university rather than the union fees. I did not have children. Even if I had been able to play sport there would have been no time to do so. I still do not know where the bar is situated. I saw the newspaper if someone left a copyy lying around and I had two minutes to flip through it. It was always filled with the same sort of pseudo-political commentary and other "news" that was of no interest to me. That particular university did not even bother with a "ball" or similar social activity. Other universities I attended did but I never went to these events and most of the people I mixed with did not attend either. We still paid union fees.
The student unions also gave a "donation" to one particular political party. It was expected of them. Many students were unaware of it and, even if they had been, there would have been nothing they could do about it.
       "It's like investing in a company," I have been told, "The company directors might use some of the funds to make a donation to a political party."
No, it is not quite the same. You can withdraw your funds from the company if you do not like the way your money being used. If a private company donates money then there is even less reason to object unless you can see they are buying direct political influence.
I do not know what the answer is to this issue. Is it funding on a membership numbers basis? Is it funding on the basis of the number of votes obtained at the latest election?
Someone suggested an "opt out" scheme. I doubt that would work. There would be a list somewhere. Some people would feel compelled to remain for fear of harassment - and they would be marked out.
It all seems wrong to me.
It is said any US citizen born in the US can aim to be President and that any Australian can aim to be Prime Minister. The reality is that you need to be wealthy or you need the support of wealthy individuals or organisations. 
It is really rather sad.

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