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Retouching the political parties

The government is approving changes to party financing that disregard the real problems

The proposed reform of political party financing, as summarized in the latest Cabinet meeting, does not alter anything really substantial in terms of already-existing legal sources of money. There is no sign of any decision concerning the contributions of sympathizers to sustain the parties — which is what the Italian government has just decided, under pressure from the anti-political movement in that country — nor is the system heading in the direction of public financing as the only suitable means for the organizations defined as political parties in the Spanish Constitution.

However, the legislative package is not entirely devoid of significant measures. It includes a ban on the pardoning of debt to political parties, thus denying them the frequently used recourse to bank loans that are then not returned. Also prohibited are donations that come from legal entities, but this will not prevent companies from continuing to finance foundations linked to the parties — though the deputy prime minister, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, says she believes that these will be better monitored. And donations from individuals will remain legal, though subject to a vague requirement that they be made public.

The plan for party finance chiefs to appear before a mixed commission of parliamentarians from Congress and the Senate can only be viewed with deep skepticism. To receive the treasurers of the various parties — the Popular Party (PP); the Socialist Party; Union, Progress and Democracy; United Left and the regional nationalist parties — once a year, may amount to a mere rubber stamp or a pretext for new squabbles, according to the conjuncture of inter-party relations. What is very doubtful is that this procedure will result in more effective monitoring of their economic and financial activity. Anything other than strict professionalized supervision will merely prolong the prevailing doubts about party accounts. No less strange is the attribution of obligatory explanations to the finance chief, as if this were not the job of the party leadership.

Collateral damage

This plan, presented as one of “regeneration,” is supposed to be an attempt to address the problem of scandals in the past. But the excessive slowness of judicial procedures prevents us from forming any precise idea of how much corruption is political in origin — as is evident in the judicial wrangle between the PP’s former treasurer Luis Bárcenas and the leadership of the party — and is causing heavy collateral damage, as it projects unfair suspicions of corruption and habitual squandering on the political class as a whole. And as long as a number of particularly serious cases, which rightly excite public indignation, remain unresolved, the credibility of any plan for regeneration must remain under suspicion.

Another reform mentioned in the package is that people convicted of certain crimes, such as terrorism, cannot hold public posts until their criminal records are cancelled. This might affect ETA terrorists after their release from prison; but, unless the bill undergoes changes in the course of its passage through parliament, this measure concerns only the national administration.