6.4.5 Payments to Politicians and Political Parties

(This is a current page, from the Patterns of Power Edition 3 book contents.  An archived copy of this page is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/645.htm)

Wealthy individuals and businesses can use their wealth to exert Political Power – by making payments directly to politicians and political parties in the form of legal political donations, party membership subscriptions, and payments in kind (such as the use of offices, loan of transport and administrative assistance).

They have other ways of influencing politicians:

  • They can exert economic pressures, as already described (3.3.9.1), without directly interacting with politicians.
  • Like anyone else, they can influence politicians by lobbying or advertising, either individually or through economic interest groups as described in the previous section (6.4.4).
  • They can participate in consultation, as described later (6.5.3).

Making payments to politicians and political parties is different from the above alternatives.  Money is being used instead of persuasion or argument.  If the payments are illegal or corrupt they are treated in this book as Ungoverned Power (7.2.5), but many political systems allow payments to politicians.

The purpose of political donations is to persuade politicians to support decisions which are beneficial to the donor.  There is an argument for allowing donations in the name of free speech, but the argument against them is that they tilt political power towards those who have money at the expense of those who do not.  Different aspects of this subject are described in the following sub-sections:

  • In a democratic system, politicians and political parties need money (6.4.5.1), to communicate their policies to the voters and for other expenses. Money can facilitate challenges to the ruling party, but it can also distort political power.
  • If wealthy people can make political donations to obtain kickbacks (6.4.5.2), they can protect their interests and further enrich themselves – becoming a self-perpetuating plutocracy.
  • Many people, notably in Britain and America, have become aware of the way in which politicians who respond to wealthy donors are not serving the interests of the population as a whole. This has resulted in a backlash against political elites (6.4.5.3).
  • Governments and people in other countries can pay money to affect domestic politics (6.4.5.4).

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