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South Africa Aims To Regulate Political Donations

In South Africa, the opposition Democratic Alliance Party has dropped out of talks to find ways to limit political donations. The Democratic Alliance says it took the action because the ruling ANC Party had shown no interest in the talks, a charge the ANC strongly denies.

The Institute for Democracy in South Africa, IDASA, is hosting the meetings on political donations, with the goal of having legislation by the 2009 national elections.

From Pretoria, the organization’s executive director Paul Graham spoke with English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua about the need for campaign finance limits. He says, “There is no regulation at all in South Africa of donations to political parties. As a result, that leaves a real gap in our anticorruption legislation. And there have been recently a number of cases where there are allegations that money is given to parties for favors. What that has done is tainted all those who donate to political parties, many of them for good reason. And so we have over the last few years been involved in trying to ensure that there is legislation. This process, which is on at the moment, involves most of the political parties. And we are slowly but surely getting to consensus about what should go into legislation.”

Issues raised in the United States over campaign finance reform, such as free speech rights or undue influence through money, are similar to those in South Africa. Mr. Graham says, “There are arguments in favor of free speech and freedom of expression and so on. But on the other side there are concerns that individual voters are being outvoted by those who are wealthy enough to make large donations. In the United States, there are limits on what people can contribute both individuals and corporations. In South Africa, there are no limits whatsoever either for domestic funding or international funding."

Considering South Africa is a very young democracy, what is the starting point to form legislation? The head of IDASA says, “We are starting with three principles I think. The first is that political parties do need money. The second is that we want to create a multi-party environment, so that there’s an opportunity for smaller parties also to flourish and receive donations. And thirdly, we believe that regulations should start with disclosure. And that provides an opportunity for people inside the political parties to monitor who’s giving money to their party and people like ourselves also to monitor that.”