The Malta Independent 28 June 2022, Tuesday

TMID Editorial: The public’s right to know where political party funding comes from

Friday, 20 May 2022, 11:48 Last update: about 2 months ago

Political party financing is a subject which many have had a bone to pick with.

It has long been said that the two major political parties are far too beholden to the people who donate money to them and prop up their campaign. 

That in itself is fine if donations are coming from the man of the street with no further interest.  But the reality is that it is an open secret that in the current political system, both major political parties survive on donations from business interests.

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Sandro Chetcuti, back when he was just leaving the Malta Developers Association, had in fact said in an interview last year that political parties regularly pester businesspeople for donations: “Sometimes, it feels like harassment. Some business-people get embarrassed by their persistence,” he told Times of Malta in the interview.

Both the PN and the PL have always insisted that they follow party financing laws in how they accept funding and donations.

This week, the Electoral Commission (finally) published the donation reports for both the PN and the PL for the year 2019 – the year of the MEP elections.

Let us take this from a numbers perspective: In total, the PN received €1,597,220 from 43,317 donors in 2019, and the PL received €1,108,723 from an unspecified number of donors, which we however know exceeds 34,000 people.

And yet, while we have party financing laws in place in order to – supposedly – increase transparency on who is actually paying political parties; we do not know anything about a single person who has donated money – irrespective of amount – to a political party.

One key point to remember when viewing such reports is that according to party financing laws, information and details of donors donating below €7,000 do not need to be made public.

Lo and behold – neither the PN nor the PL said that they had received any donations above the €7,000 – meaning that the parties did not need to reveal the names of any of its donors. 

Likewise, in previous years only a handful of corporate and individual donors were declared on this basis: totalling to 38,969 for the PN since 2016 and 15,000 for the PL since the same year.

This pales in comparison to the 7.7 million in donations which the PN has declared since 2016, and the 5.1 million in donations which the PL has declared since the same year. 

In both cases, that’s a considerable amount of money going to political parties.  And the public only knows where 0.42% of that came from.  So much for transparency.

It is clear that political party financing laws – introduced by the PL government in 2013 – need to be updated. The threshold for donations to be declared needs to be lowered – even to as far as 500 – substantially so that the public can finally know and understand who is bankrolling our political parties.

The problem is that this has to come from the political parties themselves – parties which seem content with keeping the identity of their donors under wraps to the public.  Their line of thinking is simple: the law allows us to do this, so why should we go above and beyond that… even if it means being more transparent?

There is also a case for state funding of political parties as well hidden away in all of this: if funding comes from the state and not individual donors then, at least in theory, political parties are less susceptible to giving into the interests of their larger donors.

What’s certain is that political parties cannot be trusted to regulate themselves.  Change needs to come so that politics can be made more transparent.

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