EDITORIAL: Give serious thought to campaign financing
A GENERAL ELECTION is not constitutionally due in Barbados before early 2018, but the two main political parties have already been reaching out to voters. The primary concern of the electorate at this stage must be the state of the economy, job creation and even justice reform.
But there is another issue in the lead-up to the next national vote to which political parties should give serious and urgent consideration. It is that vexing matter of party campaign financing, which the political parties have deliberately avoided over many years. They have consistently treated it as if it were a taboo subject or something beyond the public’s comprehension.
Yet, even from this distance, we watch with absolute amazement at the level of financing presidential and congressional candidates require to be seriously considered in the United States.
In that country, it is not necessarily about the best suitable candidates but increasingly those who can attract millions of dollars, either directly or through the infamous Super PACs. While we are heavily influenced by what happens in the US, this is not the type of situation to which we should aspire.
It is therefore incumbent on both the Barbados Labour Party and the Democratic Labour Party to put the topic of funding of major election campaigns and indeed of the political parties themselves on the discussion table. Such a move should help guide the public towards looking at a situation which touches our treasured democratic system.
The public has been kept in the dark for too long on how the political parties underwrite their election campaigns. This has led to all sorts of speculation and accusations when transparency and accountability concerning finances would preclude such. The political parties and indeed individual candidates should be required to disclose political donations.
There is also a level of obligation on individuals, public-traded and private businesses which help to support political campaigns and parties. The corporations must publicly disclose the level of their contributions, something which already occurs in Jamaica where a number of corporate citizens publicly disclose their monetary backing.
Neither a wealthy individual nor a corporation must be allowed to wield enormous influence and power over the political directorate, because of their financial contribution. This is an unpalatable situation in which that sacred right the public extends by casting their vote can eventually be arrogated.
This is why there is a level of cynicism by some people about “election campaigns and financing” and may have caused them to be contemptuous of what pertains. The comments about “vote buying and vote selling” at the close of the 2013 general election highlighted the depth of the problem. Yet no public discourse to date.
It is therefore time for that meaningful and open discussion on campaign finance reform to begin. We simply must not allow affluence to control the entire political process.