Remove caps on political donations, report says
A government advisory board says unlimited donations are needed to boost confidence in political parties.
Unlimited donations to political parties and movements should be allowed, and political groups without official members should also be entitled to government subsidies, a government advisory body says in a report published on Tuesday. The Dutch Council for Public Governance (ROB) feels this is the way to keep political organisations in the Netherlands both functioning and relevant.
Established political parties in the Netherlands are losing ground. Voters are more divided than ever before and membership of political parties is at a historic low with 2.5 percent. Yet only members of a party can decide who their leaders are and have a say in a party's political programme.
There is widespread recognition of the need to boost the involvement with and confidence in government in general, and political parties in particular – if only to maintain the present rule that only representatives of political parties can hold public office in the Netherlands.
Roots in society
In an - unsolicited - advise to the Dutch government and parliament, the Council for Public Governance recommends that not just registered members of political groups should have voting power, but that those giving donations should have substantial influence as well.
"Benefactors especially are a manifestation of a party's roots in society", ROB chairman Jos van Kemenade, himself a member of the Dutch Labour party, said about his report.
The ROB also opposes caps on donations to political groups and says membership should be abandoned as the sole factor to define what is a political party. Groups without registered members should also be entitled to government subsidies, the report says.
The advise immediately met with resistance from home affairs minister Guusje ter Horst, who is working on legislation to cap donations to political parties and movements. She wants to set the maximum at 25,000 euros and 700 euros for anonymous donations.
If the council's suggestions were implemented, it would have serious ramifications for recently established political organisations. The Dutch political landscape has always been diverse. But recent years have seen various new parties sprout and take root in the national parliament.
Two new movements were the result of schisms in the right-wing liberal party VVD. Geert Wilders broke away from the party in 2004 and founded his own Party for Freedom (PVV), winning 9 seats on an anti-Islam platform. Rita Verdonk made a similar move in 2007, and will be running her Proud of the Netherlands (TON) nationalist party in the next elections - planned for 2010.
Another newcomer that now has two members in parliament is the Party for Animals. The animal rights party is a membership-based group, but relies heavily on a single contributor donations for its campaign budget. Ter Horst's plans could jeopardise the party's financing.
At the other end of the political spectrum, the PVV's Geert Wilders has always stressed that he does not want democracy within his party. Wilders himself is and will remain the only member of the PVV. In order to be eligible for government subsidies, a party currently has to have at least 1,000 members.
Political parties are subsidised according to the size of their membership and how many seats they have in parliament. The ROB would like to change that rule and also allow local parties to dip into the subsidy funds.
Reveal financial backers
A qualification for subsidies would be that the list of people that donate to the party be made public. Wilders, however, has never asked for public money and is unlikely to reveal who his financial backers are. Political parties are required to do this already, but movements like Wilders' don't have to comply.
The ROB endorses the point of view that while people today are less likely to join a political party, or any other social organisation for that matter, they are still willing to contribute financially to a cause of their choice. In other countries, such as the United States, financial benefactors already play a dominant - and often criticised - role in political parties and other movements.
Ter Horst, who was present at the presentation of the ROB report, disagrees strongly with its conclusions. "I don't see how the theory of 'more money, more influence' will get us any further," she said. Ter Horst remains adamant to propose her plans to cap donations to parliament soon.