Electoral Campaign Financing Reform

Within the parliamentary system, as flawed as it is, I feel that there is a growing need for reform in regards to campaign financing. One need only look at the focus of US elections to see that the primary strategic objective of the campaigns is to develop the largest ‘war chest’ of campaign funds, and with this to dominate the opposition through domination of the available media with advertising. The same is often true in Bermuda. Frequently the campaign is not dominated by ideology, by rational discussion of the issues, but rather by who can flood the media (television, radio, print media) or the populace with with Party propaganda (pamphlets, posters, flags, Party logos, etc.). Of course in Bermuda, due to our size, ‘uncontrolled’ media such as the talk shows and now the blogs involve the mobilisation of not ‘funds’ but something akin to paramilitary forces.

The ‘paramilitary forces’ can range from partisan blogs (this blog is clearly partisan, as is a number, if not the majority, of Bermuda blogs) and partisan bloggers (that is people without blogs of their own but those who frequent and post). These forces can engage in ideological discussions and rational discussion of the issues, or they can engage in disinformation and general mudslinging that the ‘official forces’ of the Party’s themselves either cannot condone but benefit from, or don’t condone at all viewing the actions as counterproductive to the objective of winning the election.

Despite the role of the blogs and talkshows though, domination by the ‘official forces’ in the form of airtime, ads and text, as well general propaganda is still a key to success, just as is domination of the ground, in being able to both mobilise Party members on the ground for rallies and for covering canvassing ground.

This rapidly leads to something akin to an arms race but in the form of propaganda and escalating costs for political advertising and production of propaganda.

From where I sit this is a largely collossal waste of time and resources that would be better spent in building grassroots democracy and community initiatives. Within the current framework however both Party’s are locked into this mutually assured expense.

It seems to me that a simple enough reform would be to change the framework and grant equal time and space to both Party’s political advertising and propaganda. This could be something as simple as allowing each Party the same frequency, size and duration in the available media, all covered through public expense and disallow any political advertising beyond this equal basis. Political advertising or partisan propaganda from paramilitaries – should also be forbidden.

I don’t have a problem with either Party having an unlimited expense in the production of direct Party propaganda in the sense of clothing and flags with Party logos, but pamphlets and posters should be covered by the above public and equal expense.

Of course, nothing can really be done about the blogs and talkshows, but at least in these there is a greater chance of discussing ideas, and personal attacks and general mudslinging can be controlled. Similarly, this wouldn’t affect mobilisation of Party members on the ground.

The current system however allows for whichever Party has the deeper financial pockets to have an unfair advantage over other Party’s that may have a better position, but simply cannot compete to get the message out there.

I’m not sure how this would work with determining the status of new Parties. Obviously the public monies should not be wasted on ensuring hundreds of Parties of individuals have equal space with genuine Parties, but I reckon with a little work it should be possible to organise a suitable system.

I realise that I’ve been using rather militaristic language here, and that in itself is problematic, but they were the best metaphors I could think of to desrcibe the situation.

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