The leftward and other blatherings of Span (now with Snaps!)

Saturday, May 21, 2005

don't mention the workers

I always find it interesting the money put into political parties, and "independent" advertising, by businesses at election time.

There is endless complaint from the Right that unions put money into the leftish parties, but the reality is that even for those parties corporate donations far outweigh any dosh slushed their way by organisations that are democratically controlled.

Which really is a bit of a worry. Who chooses how businesses spend their political funds? Who decides how much? Who is accountable for that spending afterwards and who are they accountable to?

Sure many businesses fritter a bit to Labour and a bit to National (hedging their bets, or seeing the contribution to political parties as part of their role as "corporate citizens"). I'm more concerned about the inevitable scare-campaign that "Business" (usually the EMA) runs every election, urging people to vote Right.

You can bet your bottom dollar that no one asks their workers how they want that money spent - but don't they have a stake in the success of the business too? Wouldn't they want money that could be spent on their wages, on improving health and safety, on better equipment, on researching new products, to go to political causes that they support if it is spent on politics at all?

Ultimately workers are generally kept out of any meaningful decision-making in the enterprises they work for. And yet they have a huge stake in it; it's their livelihood! Political spending is just one example in a long long list. Why should we assume that shareholders or CEOs or Boards know best - aren't they furthest from the shop floor in all but small businesses?


Blair said...

Corporate donations are a bit of a red herring, simply because they are highly infrequent in New Zealand. And where they do occur, often they are donations to both National and Labour.

The reason for this is pretty simple: it's difficult to justify a political donation or even a political bias to shareholders who may not necessarily share the CEO's views. Most donations are made by individuals.

professional cynick but my hearts not in it said...

State-funding of political parties?

span said...

My main concern, Blair, is about the business money that goes into the scare campaigns that organisations like the EMA run.

Some corporates do seem to genuinely see donations to political as string-free, which is definitely A Good Thing, but I support Caleb's suggestion - I wish political parties didn't have to rely on soft money from dodgy sources.

Especially when finances are a huge issue with getting a political party up and running and then keeping it going too (trust me, once you're outside Parliament it's a very very hard road indeed, dosh wise).

Graham Watson said...

Unions should be free to donate funds to political campaigns, on the conditions they are voluntary, people aren't forced to join them to get pay increases, and the donation is supported by their internal democratic structure (whether at member, executive or management level).

Collective giving is fine. So is giving by businesses and individuals. There should be less restriction on giving, and more guarantee of anonymity for individuals who rtequest it. if they are known as a funder of political causes they will get every charity and cause cap in hand at their door.

span said...

well GPJ that's a fascinating reason for less transparency - because charities will target groups or individuals who give to political parties, we should have anonymous donations as a rule.

what about the perfect information that the market demands for good decision-making?

Graham Watson said...


Conflict of greater transparency vs individual privacy, I suppose I go for the individual privacy.

I can't see how this information would affect any votes, but maybe it would?

span said...

I think it would affect votes - look at the situation in the States with soft money etc? Bush's energy policy anyone?

Although I tend to think that in NZ we aren't that corrupt, maybe i'm a bit naive about it. I know that a corporate did approach the Alliance many moons ago and request a wee policy change and was told to naff off. (Mind you Matt McCarten told me that so take it with a grain of salt.)

So GPJ I'm intrigued - what about the public's right to know? Where does the right to privacy stop and the need to disclose begin?

Graham Watson said...

Caught between a rock and a hard place sometimes trade offs are necessary. I go for the hard place where in the interests of individual privacy about how they spend their money the public is not informed of individual spending decisions.

Searching my conscience I can establish no firm principles to guide me in this instance, and suppose there are times when things are not black and white where determinations need to be made on merit or balance. Of course, what constitutes merit may differ from individual to individual depending on respective value systems.

span said...

but is a corporate donation an individual spending choice? if a business is donating on behalf of the business then it is doing it on behalf of shareholders, workers, etc, who must surely be looking for some kind of benefit to the company out of it? or they all buy into the concept of corporate citizenship and supporting the democratic process (in which case they should donate to all the parties, not just one or two).

Graham Watson said...

I talked above of anonymity for individuals, not businesses. If business owners or anyone else want to give their own tax paid earnings (ie wages, drawings or salaries) that is different than a business writing a cheque. I see more of an argument for transparency in the case of the latter, wasn't there some confusion about funders of Anderton's campaign??