First published by Tan Siok Choo, The Sun Daily on 23 March 2016

ONE man, one vote – that is the bedrock of a democracy. Large donations to political parties and individuals subvert this principle because the recipient will likely place greater value on the generous donor’s vote.

For politicians who aren’t millionaires, running for political office is prohibitively expensive, making fundraising a major necessity. The key issue is how this should be achieved.

Although a member of the National Consultative Committee on Political Funding, Wan Saiful Wan Jan stressed he is appealing as an individual for feedback on the issue of political funding.

Several issues need to be considered. Should Malaysia opt for mandatory political funding? Will allowing foreigners to give political donations hurt national interests? Is the best option timely and immediate disclosure about political donors, the amount given and when the funds were received?

Saiful’s discomfort with mandatory government funding stems from the fact it is coercive rather than voluntary. Why would individuals support a law that requires them to finance causes they dislike, he asked?

Compared with unrestricted political donations, mandatory public funding for politicians and political parties is the lesser evil.

Like education, campaigning for voter support is arguably a public service that should be supported by taxpayers.

If Putrajaya is entitled to finance the purchase of nuclear submarines – a policy many may disagree with – why shouldn’t Malaysians accept the need to provide government funding for equally toxic politicians and political parties?

Two recent editorials in Canada’s The Globe and Mail as well as The Toronto Star underscore the danger of allowing untrammelled political fundraising from moneyed donors.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli were widely criticised for hosting a dinner on March 10 this year that required corporate titans to pay C$6,000 for one-on-one access to the province’s two top decision-makers.

The Globe pointed out this dinner coincided with the Ontario government’s proposed cap-and-trade regime to limit greenhouse gases (GHG). As part of the transition period, some companies will be initially granted free allowances.

“Many of the province’s largest GHG emitters are in the energy sector; they may have a particular reason for wanting to invest in some ‘one-on-one access’ right now,” The Globe editorialised; it labelled Ontario as the America of political party fundraising.

Several Canadian federal laws relating to political financing, also adopted by provinces like Quebec and Alberta, are worth emulating.

First, Canadian federal law prohibits corporations and unions from donating to political parties and election candidates.

Second, the maximum political donation individuals are allowed to give is C$1,575 – a sum that is raised by C$25 each year.

Third, election spending is limited while political parties and election candidates receive partial reimbursement for their electoral expenses – two rules that will minimise the amount of money needed to generate widespread voter support and ensure a level playing field for all participants.

In Canada, election candidates will be reimbursed up to a maximum of 60% of the election expense limit if they obtain at least 10% of the valid votes in an electoral district (similar to a parliamentary or state constituency), comply with financial reporting requirements and submit an auditor’s report on their spending. Additionally, the nomination deposit of C$1,000 is refunded.

If political parties obtain at least 2% of the valid votes cast nationally or 5% of the valid votes in an electoral district, they can claim refunds totalling 50% of allowable election expenses if they fulfil similar financial reporting and audit requirements.

Fourth, electoral expenses of candidates and political parties are audited, an important requirement to ensure compliance with electoral laws. A government subsidy is provided, which is paid directly to the auditor.

If Malaysian companies are allowed to make political donations, banning foreign entities from doing likewise could be difficult.

How do you define a foreign company? Should a locally-incorporated company with 51% of its equity owned by foreigners be classified as foreign or local? Can a 30% foreign-owned company whose senior management is determined by its overseas shareholder be deemed a local entity?

Some may argue preventing companies from making donations to political parties is unduly restrictive. This argument is without merit. Through the Internet, small sums of money raised from thousands of supporters can add up to a sizeable amount.

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders raised US$96.3 million – nearly three-quarters of this amount comprised donations of less than US$200, Zoe Thomas wrote in BBC website.

In contrast, only 17% of Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton’s US$130.4 million war chest came from donations less than US$200, Thomas added.

Creating a political climate unpolluted by donors with a hidden agenda is best achieved by mandating timely and full disclosure of all gifts, whether in cash or in kind. If there is nothing to hide, why should a recipient hesitate to name the donor and the reason for the munificent billion-ringgit political donation?

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