By Alejandro Cajas
Español In recent months, Chilean media outlets have placed the “Pentagate” scandal center stage. Investigations have sought to determine whether Penta Bank diverted funds to the electoral campaigns of several Chilean politicians and parties. Regardless of the outcome of the investigation, this situation has created an important opportunity to discuss the nature and purpose of campaign contributions in Chile.
First off, we must ask ourselves if we believe that it is convenient for political campaigning to exist, and if participants can obtain enough resources to fund their endeavors. My view is that the integrity of any political institution or practice in any country relates to the quality of public policies, effective management by the state, and the level of citizen engagement with it.
That being said, to improve the quality of public policies, there must be a reliable source of funding. No matter how altruistic “public service” is supposed to be, it is important that politics attracts the best and brightest. The quality of any given political institution greatly depends on the talent of the individuals who choose to become involved.
The question, then, is how to best fund politics. Should the state be the one that permanently funds political parties? No. In my opinion, individuals, not the state, should provide the money.
The state solution is the easiest way out, and it hides man’s most selfish tendency: to be a passive onlooker to society’s problems. “The state should solve this matter,” the cry goes, “this is what I pay taxes for.”
On the contrary, I am convinced that the solutions provided by the diverse actions of individual participants are more than able to tackle the problems that Chile currently faces. On this particular topic, it is encouraging that the bill that the government sent to Congress in November contained measures that make it easier for individuals to directly donate to political parties.
Mind you, it is important to note that natural persons, not legal persons, should make these contributions. Businesses do not have opinions, but they do have interests, and permanent corporate funding of a political party can risk confidence in the system. Although corporations do not always act in bad faith, there will always exist the suspicion of shady crony dealings between the private and public sphere when corporations make political contributions. This should be avoided.
Given that the right political activity is key to improving the quality of life of individual citizens, we need to have the most qualified individuals in this sphere to see this mission through. Their compensation requires sufficient funding for political activity, but funding that comes exclusively from the state will only turn political parties into mere clients of the state. In addition, this will grant the state’s incumbents the unprecedented power of cutting off resources to political parties that do not conform to the state’s agenda.
Instead of turning to man’s tendency to avoid his problems and look towards the state to solve everything, I am thoroughly convinced that people should directly contribute to the permanent funding of politics. This is no different from how people in Chile already fund culture, health, education, poverty-reduction initiatives, and more. In this case, the state’s task is to create the most favorable conditions to foster this kind of participation and direct the funding by citizens in all Chile.
Promoting political engagement among ordinary citizens, and a cleaner, better politics? It’s got my vote.
Alejandro Cajas is a business administrator and the executive director of the Cientochenta Foundation.
Translated by José Niño. Edited by Laurie Blair and Fergus Hodgson.