Sunday, December 7, 2008

A Belated Argument for Public Funding

You know when you have an argument with someone, and then the next day you think of the perfect rebuttal to some point they made but it's too late? This is one of those.

I have a very smart conservative friend in the choir I sing with. After rehearsal when we all go down to the pub for a pint, the two of us frequently engage in some... spirited political discussions. It's a lot of fun, actually. Kind of like discussing politics with my father, only without the yelling and the random, oblique criticisms of my life choices.


The past couple of pub debates have been devoted to the coalition and the political crisis. My friend isn't one of those who brands all coalition supporters as commies and traitors, but he is very concerned (and typically ill-informed) about the role of the BQ in all this.

He tied this concern into an argument against public funding of political parties, saying that he didn't like the idea of his tax dollars supporting a separatist party. I made the usual point that his $1.95 goes to the Conservatives and a Bloc voter's $1.95 goes to the Bloc, but he wasn't buying it.

Here's my better argument:

First, I would ask how much he donated to the Conservative Party last year. I'm betting it was the maximum. He's relatively well off, and he's a financial consultant so he'd know the tax benefits.

I would then point out that my political donations have (up until this week) equalled the ten bucks I paid for my Liberal membership. Not because I don't support them, but because I'm... not poor exactly, but certainly not awash in so much cash that I'm inclined to just give it away on a regular basis. And I think I'm pretty typical for people in the under $50,000 bracket.

Besides, I give of my time.

Now. My friend, who we can assume donated the maximum of $1,100 to the Conservatives, would have received half of that back in the form of a tax refund. And since I did not make anything close to the equivalent in donations to the Liberals, and wouldn't have benefited anyway because I usually don't make enough money to pay income tax...

This means that the taxes I do pay have, quite literally and disproportionately, helped to subsidize his donation to the Conservative Party of Canada. As opposed to the $1.95 in tax dollars attached to my vote, which quite proportionally supported my party of choice.



  1. Good point & clearly explained. Makes sense to me.

  2. Yes, the loss of public funds through tax credits for political donations is another subsidy (perhaps about 50% or so of the direct funding) which costs all of us.

    The fraction of people who donate to political parties is tiny compared to the number of voters, and this tiny group would control which parties are viable if any quick changes are made.

  3. Best not loose that one, we are going to need it I am sure at sometime in the future. I just hope it is the distant future but am not optomistic. Very good points, I wonder how the Con propaganda machine would handle it?

  4. The purpose of this post, written Nov 27th, was to make that very point.

    As someone on extremely low income, the ONLY way I can contribute to my party of choice is through my vote and in fact, there were people during the last election who said they voted only b/c of that $1.95.

    There are disincentives enough for voting, e.g., our ridiculous, antiquated voting system and all parties shifting in a rightward direction. (Those of us in the southwest of the political compass have been left unrepresented.) For people whose income is too low to enable us to donate, the cut to party funding strikes at our ability to participate to the extent that the other income classes can.

    In other words, that cut to party funding strikes directly at the lowest income bracket of the electorate. I see this as far more vital to the issue.

  5. "only without the yelling and the random, oblique criticisms of my life choices"

    Great stuff, that. lol

    Anyway, I suppose the only short way to explain it from a conservative perspective is that we do not believe that government should be in the position of subsidizing political choice. Period.

  6. Raph -

    It's my understanding that, from a conservative perspective, the government should not be in the position of subsidizing much of anything at all.

    You need to understand where that all leads, though. If you believe that public funds should not be used to fund political parties at all, and you acknowledge how much influence money has on election results, then the alternative is for parties to be funded entirely through private donations.

    Then understand what kind of people make private donations to political parties. Here's a hint: it's not poor people, and it's not just people who "care".

  7. Jennifer,

    I respect that point of view, which is why some mode of reform was necessary back in 2003. At the same time the new system hasn't exactly lent itself to the credibility it gets. The opposition parties all received far more in funding from subsidies than they did grassroots fundraising, which is odd, because the Liberals were always able to outraise the Conservatives before Chretien's amendment.

    Furthermore when a political party is almost entirely propped up by such subsidies [86% Bloc], it undermines and mocks the concept. Surely a political party that is devoted entirely to the interests of one region of Canada should not be supported by a federal funding program.

    It's also given financial legitimacy to a party that wouldn't otherwise have any at all, the Green Party, because it receives subsidies without any representation in the Canadian House of Commons. This represents a protest vote of a sort, since many people didn't vote for the Greens in order to support them financially, but out of disgust of the other contenders.

    I also don't necessarily buy the argument that politics disenfranchises the poor. If the government can donate $1.95 to the political party of your choice, then you can also scrounge together that amount for your own participation in the democratic process. Maintain the spending cap on donors, and then increase grassroots fundraising.

  8. It is perhaps indicative of the right wing mindset that Mr Alexander dismisses the nearly 10% of Canadian voters who supported the Greens as mere protest votes and somehow sees partys that do not currently have MPs in the house as different from those that do. In order to guard against the erosion of democracy we must be inclusive not exclusive. I dispute that the less fortunate in our society are not disenfranchised should the per vote funding be discontinued. Those in the more fortunate position of actually having excess income to give sizable donations to political partys and actually receive a tax benefit from such largess, most certainly do receive a subsidy for their donation that the lower income folk would not.
    The other part of the argument is that, in my view, how much money a party is able to gather should NOT materially affect the outcome of any election, the policies, people and abilities should be the key factors. We all know this is not the case as it currently stands but the per vote funding does help level the playing field a little.
    I will agree with him about the disgust for the other contenders, many folk right now have a great deal of disgust for ALL of the partys that our recently elected MPs purport to represent.
    I think my earlier question has just been answered!