Corruption, donations to political parties, and voter indifference

People are very concerned about the findings of the Charbonneau Commission, and they’re scandalized by the corruption and shenanigans done at their expense. They’re right, but all of that happened in the past and was done according to old rules that no longer exist. Meanwhile, people are ignoring things that are going on under their own eyes and that will affect their future.

Today’s reality

In the race for donations now under way, on May 16, 2013 (source: site of the DGE - Directeur général des élections du Québec / Chief Electoral Officer), the Parti québécois (PQ), supposedly much detested, is leading with 4,012 donors, followed by the controversial Québec Solidaire (QS) with 833, the Liberals (PLQ) with 459, the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ-EFL) with 327, Option nationale (ON) with 124, the Green Party (PV) with 48, the Parti marxiste-léniniste (PML) with 34, the Parti conservateur du Québec (PCQ) with 32, and Équipe autonomiste (ÉA) with 13.

Many people claim to be fed up with the old parties and tired of paying for their foolishness. They say they want change. This is hard to believe, judging by the above figures. It’s easy to understand why people seldom hear about Équipe autonomiste or other emerging parties in the media. How can we make ourselves known with such a tiny budget? The figures suggest that right-leaning voters are better at talking than doing.

Why donate to a political party?

A party is a kind of business that sells ideas. Like it or not, money is needed to run or promote such businesses. And, like it or not, the ones that have more money have a better chance of selling their ideas. They get money through donations from voters, so a party must go to the voters, explain its platform to them, and convince them to help turn that platform into reality by giving money. In return, the voters have the power to tell that party what they think and what they want. After mulling things over, a voter can agree to donate or refuse, and the parties know what they must do to make their donors happy. The donation process is thus an opportunity for voters to influence political parties at any time between elections and not just on voting day. If, however, the voters are indifferent to party financing, the parties have to turn to a more illicit kind of financing, such as the kind provided by businesses that will ask for “a return on the investment.”

Since 2010, the names of all donors have been publicly identified, to ensure transparency. When you legally donate to a party, you take a public stand and show your true colours. By donating, you have the courage of your convictions and show other people which party you want to encourage. The act of donation may also be a message to the other parties. In addition, you’re boosting that party’s popularity. The more donors a party has, the more the media will likely wish to talk about it.

New rules for donation, or how to create ‘dummy’ donors

The rules for donating to political parties have changed since January 1, 2013. These changes have greatly altered the way money is collected, and the parties that adapt the fastest will gain the most. Here are the most important changes (visit the Chief Electoral Officer / DGE site for further details): 1-The maximum per donor is set at $100 per year (down from $1,000 previously); so more donors are needed; 2-There’s no longer a tax credit for political contributions; this system is more democratic since the net cost is the same for everyone, whether one pays taxes or not; for example, a $100 donation previously had a net cost of $15 for a taxpayer and $100 for someone with no job or taxable income; 3-To compensate for the loss of income due to the limit of $100 per donor, the Chief Electoral Officer tops up donations to political parties by adding $2.50 per dollar of donation for the first $20,000 and then $1.00 per dollar for the next $200,000. This new system makes it easier for parties to get money from people who pay no taxes. It also creates an incentive to find ‘dummy’ donors who take money in cash and then give it to the party. For example, $10 in cash given to a dummy donor will become $35 once it goes through the Chief Electoral Officer.

To understand the leverage created by this topping up by the Chief Electoral Officer, suppose all donors each give $10. On average, the actual amount is much higher, but we’re reducing it for the sake of example. Money-wise, the race for donations would be as follows: PQ, $110,240 from 4,012 donors; QS, $29,155 from 833 donors; PLQ, $16,065 from 459 donors; CAQ-EFL, $11,455 from 327 donors; ON, $4,340 from 124 donors; PV, $1,680 from 48 donors; PML, $1,190 from 34 donors; PCQ, $1,120 from 32 donors; and Équipe autonomiste, $455 from 13 donors.

It’s good to criticize, … but concrete action is better.

People are saying that things are changing and that Quebec is moving rightward, but the reality looks more like the opposite. One might even say our province has a virtual “let’s pretend” right. In saying this, we’re not trying to put people down but rather to wake them up. A credible opposition can be developed. As shown above, we can do a lot with only $10 per donor if we have enough of them. For those who really want to bring change to Quebec, donate to Équipe autonomiste. And if you’re wavering between the PCQ and Équipe autonomiste, give each of them $10. The Chief Electoral Officer lets you donate $100 to each of the 19 authorized parties. As time goes by, you’ll see which of the two parties is more to your liking, and in the voting booth you’ll make the choice you want. What matters is that you act now. After the next election, it’ll be too late to complain.

Think about it!