Opinion: Political donations

POSTED: 12/2/13 2:39 PM

Here is an idea for party leader Frans Richardson (we don’t know the name of the party yet, that will probably be dropped under our Christmas tree). But hang on, the American government has taken an initiative that must be close to the local party leader’s heart. It wants to enforce stricter rules for fiscally exempted social organizations. That could have serious consequences for the large amount of anonymous money that went during the past years from these organizations to political parties.

The American finance ministry and the Internal Revenue Service issued guidelines this week that could have consequences for the political activities of organizations with social objectives.

According to Paul Ryan of the Campaign Legal Center the measure is about creating transparency for voters. The center pleads for more insight in the expenditures and revenue of political parties – an initiative that would be most welcome in St. Maarten.

The massive donations to political parties during the most recent campaigns were made possible by a political decision dating back to 2010 – known as Citizens United. This made it possible for companies to donate unlimited amounts of money anonymously to political parties. Estimates claim that this way $300 million flowed into the presidential campaigns in 2012.

That number may be impressive in St. Maarten, in the States it is chomp change. The total budget for the 2012 elections was a mind-blowing $7 billion. For that money the Americans could have bought St. Maarten a couple of times and still keep money in their pockets. Apparently, there was no interest in such a deal.

Activists call the secret donations dark money. Around 85 percent of this money allegedly went to conservative groups. These donors made their contributions through established social organizations that do not have to pay taxes in the United States. American law prohibits those organizations to engage primarily in political activities. But the way this legislation is enforced depends largely on the way the tax office interprets it.

The federal tax office allows other groups to operate fully political, but they are obliged to reveal the identity of their donors. Brendan Fisher of the center for Media and Democracy says that the proposed rules are a step in the right direction towards limiting the funds of social organizations that spend almost all of their money on influencing the elections.

Now we are waiting for the proposals for electoral reform in St. Maarten – that will never go into effect before the 2014 elections. Prove us wrong here and we will happily acknowledge it.

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