Chapter 5: Full public funding: cleaning up parties or parties cleaning up?
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Public funding of political parties and electoral campaigns has evolved with several aims. One is to inject ‘clean money’ to minimise reliance on potentially corrupting private money. Another is to enhance fair competition by redressing inter-party inequality. A third is to provide resource guarantees to enhance party stability. This chapter first considers the variety of mechanisms of public support of parties. It then examines, both empirically and normatively, the problematic concept of ‘full public funding’. In doing so it surveys those jurisdictions which provide the most generous public funding. These include some European jurisdictions where upwards of 90 per cent of party income is from public sources. It also offers a case study of moves in Australia towards full public funding of electioneering. These moves include calls to ban all private donations. Systems in place in Australia either guarantee parties up to 80 per cent of the election expenditure limit, or pay between AUD$5.40 and AUD$8.00 for each elector who votes for that party. In some cases this is also augmented by annual subsidies for ‘administration’ and ‘policy development’. Ultimately, if full funding is limited to electioneering, it will reinforce a concept of parties as electoral brands. It may provide for more equal electoral contests, but not ‘clean’ parties as parties would still fundraise from private sources for their year-round activities. Yet if full funding were somehow extended to the entire sphere of party activities, year round, then parties might be cleaned up, but they will have ‘cleaned up’, secure in the guarantee of sanitised state resources.

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