The Role of Dark Money in Politics

The Role of Dark Money in Politics

Articles, Opinion

Editor’s Note – In this article, written by Michael, an analysis of the influential role that ‘dark money’ can play in modern day politics, especially here in the UK and US, is made. Money fuels the economy, but to what extent does it fuel politics?

The Role of Dark Money in Politics

We are all, to some extent, afraid of the dark. Whether it stems from fear of imaginary monsters, to a fear of criminals lurking in the shadows ready to deprive you of your dearly earned possessions, or even your life, we all have our own reasons to fear the dark. We humans as a species have feared the dark for millennia, stretching back to the dawn of man when we discovered fire, in order to warm us, and of course, fend off the darkness of the encroaching night. It is clear to say, that the word itself, dark, has deeply negative connotations.

So what is “Dark money”? From the title, you can guess it is no benevolent thing, and it is not. It is one of, in my opinion, the most severe threats to democracy as we know it and it is not a problem faced only in the USA but here in Britain as well. Dark money refers to money that is given by undisclosed donors to non-profit political organisations which is then spent on trying to influence your vote (that is, if you can vote). Essentially, it’s money given by anonymous donors who seek to buy the election. People use dark money to buy the election; and they sometimes succeed.

The US is probably one of the most notorious examples of dark money influencing politics. Wealthy billionaires or corporations fund vast organisations known as SuperPACs (PAC standing for Political Action Committee. They can’t officially coordinate with the campaign of any candidate, but it’s not really too hard to write and pay to air ads that favour of them/attack their opponent) and 501(c) groups (non-profit, politically active groups who don’t have to disclose their donors or pay taxes, as long as their primary activity isn’t politics. In practise, this means less than 50% total expenditure on politics) who pay for ads, staff, voter database analysis, door-to-door knocking, etc. for candidates that the shadowy donors back. The mechanics of dark money are complex, but the basics boil down to this (in the US at least). 501 (c) groups receive an anonymous donation. Now, the group must adhere to spending below the limit of 49.9% of their total budget on political activities. What happens is that multiple 501 (c) groups coordinate money transfers between one another, inflating their expenditures, and thus allowing them to spend more than the limit on political activity. This network of organisations obscures both the organisations’ budget, but also helps obscure who the original donor was. A SuperPAC can spend any amount it wants on politics, but must, however, disclose their donors. The true genius comes in when 501 (c) groups donate the money they received to the SuperPAC, thus the SuperPAC can spend all this clean, legal money that the 501 (c)s can’t, whilst the 501 (c) is listed as the donor to the SuperPAC, thus anonymising the true donor.

This is vastly different to how the dark money situation in the UK works, and is also merely a basic overview (I have left out vast chunks of the mechanisms), but is an, in my opinion, an interesting insight into the sort of mechanics and loopholes dark money exploits, and gives an idea of what dark money involves. Whilst the dark money situation in the US is far worse than in the UK; we have electoral agents through which all money spent by the candidate is monitored, and unlike the US post Buckley v. Valeo, there is a limit on how much each candidate can spend; £7150, plus 5p for every registered voter in the borough, or 7p in a county. We aren’t however, immune from the influence of dark money in the UK.

Under the Political Parties, Elections, and Referendums Act of 2000, all donations £7,500+ must be reported (lump sum or multiple totalling to), or £1500+ if from a source reported prior in the same year. This act (PPERA) also prohibits donations from “impermissible sources”, or sources that are unknown. These legal requirements of disclosing publically who donated the money, and also knowing who donated the money, don’t apply to Northern Ireland. You may ask yourself why, and the reason is simple; terrorism. During the period of civil unrest known as the Troubles in NI, there was intense domestic terrorism there. Parliament decided that, in the interests of safety, political parties in Northern Ireland don’t need to disclose publically who gave them a donation, in order to protect the donor, who could become a target for the IRA or UFF as a result of their donation.

This exists for good reason; to protect lives and allow for freedom of expression whilst maintaining one’s freedom from fear. The DUP, who you may have heard of, have bastardised the spirit of this provision, and allowed the entry of dark money. In 2016, the DUP, a pro-Brexit party, decided to buy four pages of advertisements in the Metro newspaper, promoting Brexit and the Leave campaign, a move totalling £282,000. It would be arguable that this was perfectly fine, and the DUP were entitled to buy the ad, but for the fact that the Metro doesn’t publish in Northern Ireland. This begs the question-why did the DUP buy the ad in the first place? It clearly had no benefit to the DUP, as no one who could vote for the DUP would read the ads. For many the answer is simple; through the DUP, unknown, anonymous donors could funnel vast sums of money to press for a Leave result, without fear of being publically disclosed. This is more than speculation however; we know where the £282,000 came from; a DUP MP admitted the ad was funded by a £425,000 donation from a croup known as the Constitutional Research Council, headed by a Scottish business man, Richard Cook. Where the CRC got their money from is not public knowledge, and there has been much baseless speculation in regards to its origin.

It doesn’t really matter where the money came from, and really who paid for it. It probably didn’t even affect the referendum result-far more important factors came into play there, such as misinformation from the Leave campaign, anger at the establishment, the immigration debate, etc. What really makes me worry is that it sets a dangerous precedent; this time, it may have not affected us much, and was a relatively meagre sum compared to how much was spent in total by both sides (£32 million+), but it potentially could lead to the encouragement of more dark money flowing into our elections in the future. This was not the sole example of dark money in UK politics; Robert Mercer’s firm Cambridge Analytica was alleged by some to have also tried to influence the Brexit vote, and the now dissolved charity Atlantic Bridge are both other examples of dark money in UK politics.

Ultimately, we should prevent such things from happening here, and rein in unlimited, anonymous political spending. Some argue that this would be a violation of free speech; I would argue that using your financial power to speak louder than others drowns out those who don’t have the resources to do so, and violates the free speech of the many. Going back to the US, engraved on the US Supreme Court building is the motto “Equal justice under law”. Here, we must ensure everyone has a free, but equal, voice. Democracy is the rule of the people. In a world where dark money is allowed free reign, we can no longer be sure whether or not we are a democracy anymore, or are a mere plutocracy.

The Future of British Union Power: Striking a Balance

The Future of British Union Power: Striking a Balance

Articles, Opinion

Editor’s note –  The complicated role that trade unions play within the current political climate is analysed in this article, sent in by Tara. She makes the case that Len McCluskey, the leader of the trade union ‘Unite’, should not take his strong relationship with Jeremy Corbyn for granted…

The Future of British Union Power: Striking a Balance

Trade Union: an organized association of workers in a trade, group of trades, or profession, formed to protect and further their rights and interests.

The power of the oppressed worker, trampled on by a flood of globalization, cheated by faceless foreigners, has become a rather romanticized notion in British politics. The weathered and weary faces of the likes of Corbyn and Farage, promising something better, have failed to deliver thus far. Maybe this is why Unite leader Len McCluskey has declared that he will consider illegal strikes over public sector pay, breaking turnout rules needed to qualify a strike as legitimate, that were brought in by the Conservative Party. As pressing as worker concerns may be, supporting illegal action will signal the end of union power at a time where it is needed more than ever. This tactic has been adopted by a union leader previously renound for his support of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. From funding his leadership bid, to offering his support to the Labour General Election campaign, it is undoubtedly true that Corbyn would not have seen his unexpected success without the backing of Unite. However, it is untenable for Corbyn to support illegal actions by the unions as this would undermine his own role as a lawmaker.

Therefore, by making this announcement McCluskey is cutting himself off from the conventional route of patronage that he was previously successfully pursuing to grow union power in Britain. This is problematic in two ways. Firstly, it signals to political parties that unions are an unreliable or politically toxic form of base support. Relying so much on unions already drew a lot of criticism for Corbyn and by making unions illegal, outsider institutions, this kind of action will only add to the disincentives of future political figures to listen to union concerns and make them a key player in the decision making progress. Secondly, it alienates public support as people begin to label striking workers as militant and unreasonable. This means they are less likely to back any given strike, making it easier for the government to brush off the issues that underpinned it without voters objecting. Not only will the illegal strikes undermine the key mechanisms of support for unions, but they are also not even likely to be effective. If a government were to give in to an organization that had so publicly declared breaking the law as one of its tactics, this would only encourage other unions and groups to adopt the same tactics to get results for their causes. It will always seem easier to a government to wait out one illegal strike than to set a precedent for more of the same in the future. By undertaking illegal actions, strikers leave the government with no choice but to reject their concerns.

At best, McCluskey’s new stance will create fragments of legislation in the short-term, but in the long-term unions need crucial partisan and public support to achieve a voice for their members and this cannot happen with illegal striking as a tactic. In the context of a Britain that is leaving the EU and losing many of the worker safety nets that have been so crucial over the past few decades, it is more important than ever that union leaders act pragmatically, rather than being swept along in a haze of justice seeking anger. There is no question that life is getting harder for the average worker and that the people that Len McCluskey represents are being let down by the modern British economy. But turning against the law is not the solution. Continuing a system of pursuing legislation, lobbying, growing public awareness and direct involvement in political parties is the only hope that Unite has. McClusky would be foolish to throw away the symbiotic relationship he has developed with Jeremy Corbyn, because if he does so, he will be signing the death warrant of union power for good.

The Future is Federal – How Federalism could save the UK

The Future is Federal – How Federalism could save the UK

Articles, Opinion

Editor’s Note – Is there a way of reuniting the ‘United’ Kingdom? In this opinion article, Rowan puts forward his suggestion as to how we solve the feeling of isolation that has clouded politics for too long and why we should all embrace federalism…

The Future is Federal – How Federalism could save the UK

Federalism – the distribution of power in an organization (such as a government) between a central authority and constituent units.

In 1707 the first Act of Union was passed in parliament and the United Kingdom of Great Britain was established. In 1800, the union was expanded to include the Kingdom of Ireland and, after years of struggle to secure home rule, the southern part of Ireland fell away to form the Irish Free State in 1922; leaving the UK in its current form comprised of England, Scotland Wales and Northern Ireland. In 1998, the Union underwent a major democratic advancement. For what was almost 300 years of Union, the nations of the UK had been without a democratic voice in their own countries. This changed with the devolution of a parliament to Scotland and assemblies to Wales and Northern Ireland. From this point forward these elected legislatures have relied on devolution, promises from central government which give more powers to these bodies.

However, this is an intrinsically flawed system of government. Westminster has no obligation to provide the devolved parliament and assemblies with the powers that are promised and this can lead to anger, discontent and, as seen recently in Scotland, cries of independence from the union. By embracing federalism, the inefficiency and confusion of devolutionary government could be resolved. The definition of Federalism is ‘the distribution of power within an organisation’ and it is a system not just adopted by the USA. Federalism differs from devolution in that the powers and capabilities of the sub-divisions of government are enshrined in constitutional law and are in no way controlled by or reliant upon the central government.

My vision for federalism is, as far as I am aware, utterly unique; forget your ideas of the USA and its 50 states because here they would be inapplicable. This is because the United Kingdom is unique. Nowhere else have four different cultures been squashed together in such a way that they are all still considered separate nations within a nation and this must be represented. Therefore, a federal United Kingdom would require four fully autonomous parliaments in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England, the one nation which has received no devolution, save for London and some metropolitan mayors in major cities. These Parliaments would have full control over taxation and other fiscal policy, allowing for the nations to healthily compete for business and create a varied economy within a country that can suit the needs of every British citizen.

One issue of our centralist system of government is the existence of regional neglect. This quite simply equates to central government’s incapability to address the issues and problems within a specific region or regions. A federal system would establish official legislative regions in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and expand London’s regional assembly system across the other nine regions of England and the new administrative regions within the other three nations. Such a system would allow for local people to elect representatives to deal solely with regional affairs that would be too insignificant for a sole central government to address and too complicated for the largely ineffective local councils to address. These representatives would also work together in their local areas or wards with other representatives from nearby areas and local people; so as to fulfil the role left by the removal of the centrist and ineffective local council system.

A final matter to address is the central government itself. If there are autonomous parliaments and regional assemblies, what is the point of a central government? Quite simply to represent the country on the international stage and preserve the United Kingdom as a single country. The central government would be elected by a party list system of proportional representation. This would mean that the party itself would be elected and effective experts and experienced decision makers could be appointed democratically in order to check the laws passed in the lower parliaments; essentially making the unelected House of Lords redundant in its purpose and able to be disbanded. This parliament would be responsible for international relations, including diplomacy and international negotiation, the military and relations between the 4 nations, with a federal secretary appointed to represent the central parliament in each parliament.
To summarise a federal system of government, if established in the UK would allow for the union to survive into the future and would allow for the regional issues and the national issues facing the United Kingdom to be resolved very quickly and very efficiently.

Should Britain be a place for refugees to call home?

Should Britain be a place for refugees to call home?

Articles, Opinion

Editor’s Note – The following opinion article has been sent in by Katie. She passionately argues that the West, and Britain in particular, need to do more to assist and welcome refugees. Do you agree, or are we already doing too much?

Should Britain be a place for refugees to call home?

NY Daily News

Today across the world there are more than 22 million refugees. These are men, women and children who are fleeing persecution and bloody conflict and who find themselves very quickly alone, with no place to go. Currently the United Kingdom is home to approximately 118,900 refugees, many of whom have not been successfully integrated into our society. This is an unacceptable number and situation. The British economy is the fifth largest in the world which means it has the resources to take care of many of the refugees that are in great need of a home. Even so, many people in the UK, and Europe as a whole, are apprehensive about the introduction of refugees to their cities and towns. Why is it that xenophobia is defeating moral decency and hatred reigns far above compassion?

People are afraid that refugees entering the UK will have a negative effect on our economy, jobs availability and that some could even be members of Daesh (so-called Islamic State). These fears and misconceptions have led to a hostility towards refugees which is based upon fragile evidence and very limited facts. Professor Alexander Betts, Director of Refugee Studies at Oxford University, used his 2014 study entitled ‘Refugee Economies: Rethinking Popular Assumptions’ to outline the economic reasons as to why hosting refugees is beneficial. He concluded that as most European countries are currently facing the issues of an ageing workforce and declining birth rate they would benefit greatly from an increased youth population. The refugee crisis provides this opportunity as over half of those who have been forced to escape from their home countries are under the age of 18.

Not only would Britain benefit from the manpower of refugees, but they would also make financial gains due to refugees potential purchasing power and ability to create employment opportunities. Refugees engage in trade and entrepreneurship and it has been widely agreed that the impact of refugees on a host nation’s economy relies not on the refugees themselves but on the policies of the host nation. If Britain allows for swift integration of refugees into society, encouraging their education and involvement in the workforce, the positive impact of refugees on the economy will much sooner than if refugees remain segregated from the rest of the society. This tendency of refugees to remain separated may stem from hostility that some British people have towards refugees as they fear those from countries such as Syria and Iraq could be members of Daesh. This is once again a misconception and the facts are that many of the refugees from those nations are fleeing the brutal persecution of the terrorist group.

Britain has a moral obligation to welcome refugees. They are people who would be at great risk if they returned to their home countries, many of whom have already suffered devastating personal loss. Women who have suffered rape at the hands of violent militants and men who have watched as their young child drown in the treacherous Mediterranean Sea. The figures show that 8,500 people have either died or gone missing on the journey across the sea since three-year-old Alan Kurdi’s body washed ashore in 2015. All those people and their families were making the most dangerous journey in the attempt to reach safer and more welcoming lands. Instead they are met by neglected camps in Europe, police brutality in Britain and animosity everywhere. This harsh treatment of refugees and asylum seekers is completely intolerable and British Citizens and authorities should keep in mind the response they would expect if this country was up in flames.

This need for change is even more vital as another refugee crisis unfolds, with Rohingya Muslims fleeing from radical Buddhists in Myanmar to the neighboring Bangladesh. Once again makeshift camps are being set up, able to take in only a proportion of the 35,000 people that are arriving every day. But meanwhile the West watches and does nothing. People have no place to live, no access to medicine and no running water but Britain does not offer a helping hand. This country needs to change its path, stop being insular and instead look out to the world and help.