The Irish Times is correct to warn against weakening the laws that regulate political funding
The Irish Times (editorial, Jan 16th) is correct to warn that allowing foreign political donations could have negative consequences for our democracy. It is also correct to highlight the similarities between funding election campaigns and funding political lobbying between elections.
Atheist Ireland is a small advocacy group promoting human rights. These laws restrict our work, including during the blasphemy referendum and our ongoing lobbying on issues such as secular education. But we welcome those restrictions, because they protect democracy from the undue influence of big money donors.
We must remember that the political funding laws were inspired by the shocking tribunals into political corruption. Most political influence is bought outside of elections. Democracy is vulnerable all of the time, not just for three weeks every four years.
These laws do not limit the amount of money that campaign groups can raise for political purposes. For example, the campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment raised €500,000 in a week. You just have to attract a lot of small donations, of less than €2,500 each, not a few large donations from wealthy donors. That’s democracy in action.
Not only should we protect these laws, we should strengthen them to regulate direct political spending by wealthy bodies. We should change the trigger for being captured by the law, away from political donations and towards political spending. We should publish details of donations and spending immediately. We should adapt the laws to encompass social media campaigns.
As citizens of a republic, we all have the right to take part, on the basis of equality, in the conduct of public affairs. Regulating political funding, both during and between elections, helps to make politics a battle of ideas and not a battle of bank accounts.