Big fines to de­ter buy­ing elec­tions

The Guardian - - OPINION -

In poor democ­ra­cies, votes are bought di­rectly. In rich ones, money is spent to se­cure votes. In­stead of be­ing bribed, vot­ers are sub­jected to a del­uge of ad­ver­tis­ing, rounds of door-knock­ing and in­ces­sant so­cial me­dia mes­sag­ing. Laws in richer democ­ra­cies are meant to be tightly en­forced. A check on UK elec­tion spend­ing is that con­tri­bu­tions have to be de­clared cor­rectly. That is why the de­ci­sion to fine the Con­ser­va­tive party a record £70,000 for “nu­mer­ous fail­ures” in ac­cu­rately re­port­ing cam­paign spend at the 2015 gen­eral elec­tion and three by­elec­tions in 2014 is so im­por­tant. It is a wrong com­pounded by cover-up. The Tories “un­rea­son­ably” failed to co­op­er­ate with the Elec­toral Com­mis­sion, which acted af­ter a Chan­nel 4 News re­port.

Fool­ishly, David Cameron dis­played not a hint of con­tri­tion, claim­ing he had won “fairly and squarely”. He ran a sham­bolic op­er­a­tion. It’s too early to say whether a crim­i­nal of­fence has been com­mit­ted. Any pros­e­cu­tion must prove beyond rea­son­able doubt that this is dis­hon­esty not just non­com­pli­ance. The cost of per­vert­ing elec­tions will have to be raised so that par­ties do not think it is a price worth pay­ing to win. Money buys ac­cess to shape poli­cies. With­out strict rules and harsh penal­ties, politi­cians will be tempted to win of­fice by mort­gag­ing the fu­ture to an in­vest­ing elite.

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