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Editorial: Woo the small funders, too

Published:Tuesday | August 18, 2015 | 8:00 AM

We don't understand why St Aubyn Bartlett, the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) politician, felt he ought not to go full throttle at it. For, asking party supporters, other than the well-heeled ones, to fund the JLP is an eminently sensible idea. It is now for the leadership of the JLP to have a serious go at it.

Indeed, we would urge the People's National Party (PNP) to embrace the idea, even if, during this period, they might be having cash flowing into their coffers from big donors. We suspect it usually happens that way when you form the government.

As this newspaper reported, Mr Bartlett, a former parliamentarian who harbours hopes of again becoming an MP, last week went on Facebook to all but concede the penury of the JLP and to confirm, more or less, what has long been whispered: that the party's traditional financiers are being stingy with it. It seems that they are not particularly enamoured with the leader, Andrew Holness.

Mr Bartlett rejects the arguments of those who suggest that the JLP should turn its back on the big donors and also wanted to gauge whether sufficient small donors could be galvanised to finance the party.

He wrote on his Facebook page: "How many of us Labourites really want to see our party succeed? Indicate by commenting on this post and send $2,000 per week to Belmont Road (JLP headquarters)."

He apparently didn't get many positive responses. Nor does it seem that cheques for small amounts have flowed into the JLP's accounts. But this doesn't mean that Jamaican political parties should not look to their grassroots supports for more of their funding.

This newspaper continues to support state campaign financing and a requirement for the reporting of donations, as has been proposed by the Electoral Commission of Jamaica, whose report was endorsed by the Parliament. Unfortunately, the Government has been slow to table the legislation for this to happen.

 

funding from the base

 

State funding of political parties on a matching finance basis does not preclude their need to raise private cash. Preferably, as large a portion of this as possible should come from small donors who have less capacity to influence government policy than the special-interest financiers who now pay the bills.

While we partly accept the proposition that many people can't afford it, we do not believe that is the only reason why more do not give to the party they support. They are not asked - not in a specific and focused way.

Indeed, many relatively poor people contribute to their churches. Some formally tithe. The churches, and perhaps the parsons, understand that even small sums eventually add up. For politicians, perhaps, this is too hard a job; it is easier to trade influence with special interests.

Mr Bartlett has started a conversation. It should be pursued in a practical and rational fashion.

First, many small donors in Jamaica might find it impractical to do so via the Internet using, say, PayPal, or even cheques, but their pennies should still count. Further, our notion of Greater Jamaica says that the diaspora is part of the constituency the parties might wish to tap for small donations.

Merely having a donations wand on a party website won't do the trick. It requires real effort.