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Editorial: Following the money

Out of the mouths of babes.

And congressmen.

In the United States, the federal government is trying to pass a Republican tax reform bill that would give moderate tax breaks to average Americans, and much heftier benefits to profitable businesses and the rich.

And the Republicans are under considerable pressure to get the job done.

What might be surprising is who they’re working for.

“My donors are basically saying get it done or don’t ever call me again,” said Republican Rep. Chris Collins, N.Y.

Think about that: Collins didn’t say his constituents were pushing for the changes. He said his donors were.

And who are Collins’ donors? Well, he received US$14,472 from small donors. The bulk of the US$627,203 his campaign raised during the 2017-18 election cycle came from political action committees for national agencies and large donors, many located outside his district.

So, you could legitimately ask, who does he actually represent?

Now, that’s American politics, and things are substantially different here.

But what the Collins situation points out is that there are very good reasons to maintain strong, effective rules concerning how companies and private citizens are allowed to donate to politicians and their campaigns.

After all, this is a province where businesses who have gotten government contracts in the past have been contacted directly by the political parties of the day and told bluntly how many tickets they were expected to buy to fundraising dinners.

Now, businesspeople will often argue that they don’t donate money to politicians either personally or through their companies to gain specific benefits. As the argument goes, they’re merely supporting the political process, and, if anything, supporting the political parties whose long-term direction must closely matches their own personal politics. They’re not looking for some kind of payback in the short term.

If that were really true, though, then it should be possible to have donations go through a third-party elections agency, so that individual politicians wouldn’t even know who their financial supporters were.

If the process actually was as altruistic and above board as some like to suggest, the money would still come in.

Most likely, though, without credit (in both senses of the word) attached, it wouldn’t.

Because there’s a lot more pragmatism involved. After all, this is a province where businesses who have gotten government contracts in the past have been contacted directly by the political parties of the day and told bluntly how many tickets they were expected to buy to fundraising dinners. It’s been such an organized system that the number of dinner tickets has corresponded directly to the size of contracts received.

If the “quid” is open, obvious and within the rules, you can connect the dots and see the potential “pro quo” effects all the more clearly.

And that just leads us back to the accidental admission of Rep. Collins: there is always the danger that, in a systems where financial machines often are needed to win elections, money talks, and constituents walk.

And if your representative seems to hear the voice of donors more clearly than constituents, you need a new representative.

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