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Responsibility in a democracy

The PP must clarify its financing, punish the excesses of the past and dissuade future ones

Between 2002 and 2007, the Popular Party (PP) kept a mechanism continuously working to evade the Court of Auditors' monitoring of its methods of financing, according to new data recently published by EL PAÍS in connection with the Bárcenas case. Political decency demands that the PP offer a convincing explanation for its presumed illegal financing, instead of stubbornly clinging to the claim that all of it was the work of a lone opportunist, Luis Bárcenas, who no longer forms part of the party leadership. The insufficiency of this story is apparent in the opinion polls, which show the decline of public confidence in the political elite due to the pilfering of public funds and tax evasion.

For three months now, the party's leadership has been denying the veracity of the Bárcenas papers, while complaining of its concern over the negative effect such information may have on the international reputation of "the Spain brand." From this we may deduce that illegal financing in itself does not seem to be a problem for them. Nor do the substantial sums ("deferred severance pay") they awarded to Bárcenas after his resignation from the Senate and the post of party treasurer. The problem, in the eyes of the PP, is simply that all this has now come to light.

But the Bárcenas case still has a long judicial road ahead of it, the negative effects of which will come on top of those already deriving from the investigation of the Gürtel corruption network. Many areas of shadow in the party's illegal financing are being illuminated and the governing party's leadership is changing its tactics, shifting from stonewall denial — the line it took when EL PAÍS began to publish the alleged irregular accounts of Bárcenas — to threatening legal action against the news media that publish accusations, principally this newspaper and the radio network SER, which both form part of the Prisa group.

This attempt is pointless, because the courts — which are already looking into the ex-treasurer's financial fiddles during the decades when he enjoyed the party's full confidence — will finish up unraveling the yarn and discovering the origins of his own enrichment. Also under the spotlight is what induced Bárcenas to violate the law against receiving donations from holders of government contracts, and the 60,000-euro-a-year ceiling on donations from a single source, while he employed ruses to allegedly launder the undeclared funds obtained yet deposited only a small fraction in the bank. In the process, we have learned of payments made to PP leaders when they were in opposition, including José María Aznar.

The public needs to know more about the excesses committed in illegal financing of political parties, in order to render these practices more risky in the political sense, and thus less frequent. It is not only a matter of demanding explanations over illegal procedures that occurred in the past; what is more important is to increase the capacity of dissuasion against those who may attempt to commit such acts again in the future. Only in this way can we hope to have a democracy characterized by transparency and responsibility.