High-spend politics might make great TV, but democracy pays the price for it – The Guardian

Science & Technology

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away (pre-Brexit that is), I was vaguely involved in British politics. One thing that always stood out for me was how people from both main parties would often complain that British politics was very drab. They always meant in comparison to the US variety – with its higher production values that mirrored television long before Donald Trump turned it into a grim reality show.
Among the reasons for our political glamour deficit are the limits on how much parties can spend on campaigns (£30,000 per constituency) and what they can spend it on (TV advertisements are banned). But people in Westminster should get over their dreams of reliving The West Wing, because it’s a small price to pay for ensuring money doesn’t play an even bigger role in our politics.
Those needing further convincing should read new research that examines the impact of spending limits in mayoral elections in Brazil. Areas with more stringent limits attracted more candidates (a 25% lower spending cap resulted in 9% more candidates) and saw fewer incumbents re-elected.
Some (idiots) defend high spending limits by arguing that political candidates raising funds from their fellow citizens is key to the cut and thrust of democracy.
But is that what actually happens? The Brazilian research work shows that winners in the high spending cap regions did have more cash. But where did the money come from? Themselves.
Allowing more money into our politics would be a very dangerous game. You’ve got to keep the spending limits down to keep the oligarchs out.
Torsten Bell is chief executive of the Resolution Foundation. Read more at resolutionfoundation.org