In my manifesto for the 2012 General Election, I advocated that we: “Commission a Green Paper on campaign financing to investigate the pros and cons of placing caps on campaign financing or the abolition of private campaign financing, replacing it with set and equitable public financing for all candidates.”

This is one, among many, political reforms that I think we need in order to develop a democracy worthy of its name in the 21st Century.

Selling Bermuda

The recent launch of Think Media and its opening story ‘Selling Bermuda’ highlights one of the key reasons why we need campaign finance reform now.

In the Selling Bermuda article, it’s alleged that Mr Landow, a casino-magnate, who had an interest in opening a casino in Bermuda, was approached by now Premier Cannonier asking for $300,000 for the OBA’s 2012 General Election campaign. 

(Yesterday the Premier said:  “I flatly refute the allegation that I requested any monies from US developer, Mr Nathan Landow.”)  

According to this article, Mr Landow allegedly helped the OBA’s

The OBA subsequently won the 2012 election, gave lip-service to holding a referendum on casino-gambling while at the same time using public monies to finance a political consultant to devise a strategy to ditch said referendum (involving manufacturing an excuse to blame the Opposition and manipulate both OBA members and MPs).  

We also had JetGate and unltimately the ditching of the referendum on casino gambling.

Some years ago, MP Patricia Pamplin-Gordon noted that ‘he who pays the piper calls the tune’.  In this she was criticising the then PLP Government, but it equally applies to her ‘new’ party.  

When political parties are dependent on war-chests for elections, when elections themselves become about marketing and not policies (the OBA, after all, in the 2012 election had a brilliant advertising campaign, but no election platform — just three ‘mini-platforms’), then parties become dependent on large financial contributions.  

And when that happens, parties become beholden to private interests.

Far from a democracy we end up with a prostituted democracy, where political parties become beholden to private interests and policies become ‘for sale’.  

Alternatively, these private interests may be fed advance notice of RFPs, providing them with an unfair advantages over others, even if officially it’s near impossible to prove.  

Where’s PATI by the way?

Whether these allegations or true or not, the fact that they could be, that our political system has multiple loopholes that render it open to abuse, should be a wake-up call for us all.

What We Need

To restore our democracy to something worthy of its name we need to implement:

Fixed-term elections.

• The right-to-recall MPs.

• A hybrid electoral system involving proportional representation.

• Either a cap on private campaign financing or its replacement with an equitable public financing model.

• Abolition of an appointed Senate.

• Public Access to Information (PATI).

• A stronger Register of Interests for all candidates.

• An empowered Electoral Commission, including the power to rule on the acceptability of referenda questions.

• The implementation of Alex Scott’s proposed Public Integrity Act.

• Revised and updated legislation regarding fraud.

• Strong regulation of political lobbying by private interests.

• Minimum free TV and radio time for all candidates.

An informed and engaged citizenry is needed to both implement these transformative reforms and to ensure our democracy is true to its name, one that works for the people and not for private interests with deep pockets. 

It’s time to stop being passive spectators; it’s time to bring power back to the people.