Rationalise election funding, to get out of a vicious circle!

Kudos to the Parliament and the Government for passing the Lokpal bill today. It goes along with a bouquet of legislation to combat corruption, starting with the Right to Information Act. Though Lokpal is a powerful tool, we still need to address the causes of the disease of corruption – electoral funding!

1. The reality of direct elections today is that large sum of money is required to reach out to the electorate and provide them with democratic information relating to their electoral choices. The official limits upon election expenses are irrational, barely meeting the appropriate levels of expenditure and are consequently never adhered to.

The campaign expenditure, which is often twenty to thirty times the legal limit, creates a high compulsion for corruption. Consequently, the sources of electoral funds are unaccounted for and comprise criminal money. Thus, the caps on election expenditure (admittedly put in place to bring about equality among candidates) in fact breed systematic corruption and favour the election of criminals who have the ability and resources to arrange for unaccounted money.

2. Usually, the unaccounted money thus raised is received from various pressure groups/power-houses/rich groups who use it as payment for the receipt of illegal favours from candidates once they are elected to power.

Having been elected into power on account of these unauthorised payments to meet the financial pressures of election campaigns, the elected representatives are forced to perform illegal favours. The electorate, whom the candidate represents, however, remains unaware about these inclinations of their candidates, in light of the clandestine nature of these donations.

3. A removal of maximum limits or adhering to realistic limits on electoral funding allows the legitimisation of election expenses by enabling candidates to not rely on illegal sources of money. This in turn will curb the perpetuation of corrupt candidates being elected into the power.

At the same time, clear and strict accounting and auditing procedures help maintain transparency, allowing candidates to be aware of the economic and financial inclinations of their representatives before voting them into power.

4. The effective functioning of democracy requires that its essential resources are sourced and allocated in a democratic manner. Since finances play an important role in the conduct of democratic elections today, it is essential that funds for election resources are contributed to candidates in a democratic manner.

Plurality in democracy demands that all candidates may freely receive funds to contest elections from plural sources, to prevent a concentration of power in the hands of a few moneyed groups. Allowing grassroots contribution by people is a mechanism whereby the spirit of ‘One Person One Vote’ is preserved.

Removing limits on election expenditure shall allow for a more ready receipt of grassroots funds by candidates, restoring economic democracy in elections.

It’s high time that all political parties come together to deliberate and act on electoral reforms and reclaim our democracy!

This write up has been first published on Rajeev Gowda’s facebook page, and republished here with permission.

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