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Sunday, July 04, 2004

What money cannot buy

American Independence Day seems a good time to return to the race for the U.S. Presidency. I am heartened by reports in The Observer today that Kerry is matching George W. Bush dollar for dollar in the fundraising stakes. It is said that he has amassed a war chest of $180m compared to the President's $216m. However, as the paper points out, all that cash will not compensate for a lacklustre campaign. There has been a perception in recent years that people can win elections by outspending their opponents. In democracies such as those of America and Britain, spending power is very important. The electorate is media-hardened. They are used to the commercial hard sell and often it is necessary to repeat one's message over and over before it starts to get through. That costs money and creates a market in which the smaller parties cannot compete. The growth in support of the smaller parties though, shows that this is not the whole picture. Money cannot buy trust, nor can it assuage a general feeling of disenchantment and alienation with the poltical process. Increasingly, all of this expenditure is being targeted at a shrinking market, even if we do disregard the fact that most of it will be used to get messages across to a small group of swing voters anyway. The situation is not so dire in Britain where the use of television for campaigning is strictly controlled, but surely it is time we reined back this big spending for good and forced all parties to compete on a level playing field. Maybe we should consider the state funding of political parties to reduce the influence on policy of large donors. The use of commercial marketing and advertising techniques should be regulated and rationed so that money is no longer the determining factor. It is a pipe dream I know, but I would be interested in hearing what you have to say on the subject.

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