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Alejandro Navas, Professor of Sociology, University of Navarra, Spain

Party accounts

Sun, 28 Feb 2010 09:21:24 +0000 Published in El Correo (Basque Country)

Faithful to its annual quotation , the Court of Audit denounces irregularities in the accounts of the political parties: unjustified cancellation of bank credits, opaque financing, high indebtedness. As happens on the night of the election workshop , when almost all the candidates are satisfied with the results, the various parties are in a hurry to make a favorable reading of the Court's report . In fact, it is not the same to consider absolute or relative figures (for example, according to the issue of votes obtained), so that it will always be 'the others' who are worse off status, but an invariable guideline is maintained: the party in power receives a more favorable attention from the financial institutions. In this case, the data that has raised the most controversy is the cancellation to the PSOE of credits amounting to 30 million Euros. All this happens when the banks are becoming very stingy with the credit and are keeping small companies and families in suspense: the contrast with the attention given to the political class is shocking. The citizenship is indignant, with reason, and this subject of scandal reinforces the belief in the irremediable corrupt character of our politicians.

Can anything be done to achieve the desirable transparency in the accounts of political parties? I think so, and in order not to answer in general and in a purely theoretical way, I bring up the case of the German liberal party (FDP). This political group received 1.2 million euros in illegal donations between 1996 and 2002. The presidency of the Parliament, which examines official document the accounts of the parties, imposed a penalty of 4.3 million euros in 2009 (we tie with Germany in terms of slowness in supervision). The party has appealed, but if it loses the resource it will have to pay. A first difference with our country can be seen here: the German offender does not escape the payment of fines set by law, even when he is in government.

The FDP has learned its lesson and has put in place internship various measures to ensure an orderly and transparent economic management . From entrance, it set up an agency separate from the organization, which acts as an external auditor financial aid to the party bodies on the economic management and supervises the accounts. It also receives donations, and checks that they comply with the legal requirements . As the resource to the services of this agency is voluntary and not all regional or provincial delegations use it, the party has reinforced the internal control bodies, which function as the intervention service of the Ministry of Finance. Irregularities have almost entirely disappeared, and the party's financial status has turned around completely: it now has a surplus. I do not know if it is a coincidence that the reorganization of its finances has been correlative to its electoral rise, which has led it to form a government with the Christian Democrats, but the coincidence deserves to be studied.

Political parties in Germany receive little money from the state and are financed mainly by membership fees and donations from third parties. This system underlines and rewards their social implantation, but makes them vulnerable to the influence of companies or institutions that may help them economically in the hope of receiving favors when the party governs. In Spain we have opted for public financing, and the results leave much to be desired. The same parties control the Legislative, Executive and Judicial powers, and are incapable of self-regulation: it is understandable that the parties are reluctant to be brought to heel by a power that they themselves control, and so everything stays at home. Fortunately, the partitocracy does not completely dominate everything and cannot prevent censures such as those of the Court of Auditors from reaching public opinion, but this subject of denunciations is dispatched with the simple transcript of 'and you more'. When will our parties understand, as the FDP did in its time, that honesty is profitable in economic and political terms?