It is a centuries-old proverb that he who pays the piper calls the tune. The recent exposé on the Ontario Liberal Party’s shady fundraising events only serves to confirm what people of all ages have known very well: that with enough money, one can have politicians, judges and police officers in one’s back pocket.
The Ontario Liberals have been taking the heat of late when it was reported that they have been organizing intimate and exclusive receptions for those willing – and able – to fork over thousands of dollars per plate to receive access to cabinet ministers. One such event was the $1600-a- plate Heritage Dinner that raised about $2.5 million for the party. With an extra $2,000, a donor can sit at a “victory table” and with another $1,000 a 30-minute “pre-reception”, which means increased face-time with the movers and shakers.
Wynne and her cabinet ministers denied that there was any quid pro quo for big donors. But it is hard to swallow that assertion when one of the banks that acted as an underwriter for the privatization of Hydro One, promoted a $7,500-per- head fundraiser for Energy Minister Bob Chiarelli and Finance Minister Charles Sousa. The latter defended this fundraising by saying that “It’s not something I have been concerned about. I make myself accessible to all stakeholders.” However, it is clear that not all stakeholders are created equal, because with a price tag of $7,500 per plate, only those deep-pocketed stakeholders can gain access to the valuable time of Mr. Sousa. A stakeholder who could only afford a $7.50 meal is clearly not someone whom Mr. Sousa is concerned about.
What we are blatantly seeing here is the minister of finance raising hundreds of thousands of dollars from the banking and insurance industries he regulates; the minister of energy from the power companies; the minister of health from the pharmaceutical industries; and so on. With each dollar donated a favour is kindly returned in the form of favourable policies, government contracts, privatizations, corporate subsidies, etc. The government becomes, as Marx and Engels said in The Communist Manifesto, “a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.”
The manner in which the Liberals first responded to this scandal only reveals to everyone the true nature of the system we are living in. “I think it’s part of the democratic process,” said Wynne, defending a $6,000-a-head cocktail party. With such a price tag, it can only be a democracy for the rich. Then, like a petulant child caught smoking in the school yard, Wynne countered that everybody does it. This only demonstrates that such an affair is business as usual for all politicians and business people.
Wynne’s counterpart in British Columbia has also been found mired in this expensive shoulder-rubbing scandal. At one dinner hosted earlier this year by Simon Fraser University Chancellor Anne Giardini, 10 guests paid $10,000 each to spend time with B.C. Premier Christie Clark, where they could bend her ear about any issue that affects their bottom line. Some of these dinners have been said to go as high as $20,000 per plate. A recent story published in The Globe and Mail chronicled how Clark has been receiving an “allowance” of more than $277,000 from her party since 2011. The logical implication is that this “allowance” represents fees for her gracing fundraising events with her appearance.
The Ontario Progressive Conservatives have been attacking the Wynne Liberals, accusing them of unfair and unethical practice of fundraising. However, PC Leader Patrick Brown seems to forget – or conveniently chose to forget – that his party also engages in the same practice of receiving large donations from big money. Former PC leadership candidate Christine Elliot received a single donation of $100,000 in 2014. The PCs also held a scheduled $10,000-a- plate exclusive dinner in April at the Albany Club of Toronto, and their own website describes as “the premier private club for leaders in Canada’s business and conservative political spheres.
Facing a public backlash that refused to go despite her twist-and-turn efforts to justify her expensive fundraising events, Wynne has beaten a retreat and changed course. She cancelled all of her upcoming private fundraising events and instructed her cabinet members to do the same. She also announced that her government would bring in new party financing rules this spring. “I think it is important that we get this right,” said Wynne, which in a double-speak world of bourgeois politics means ‘we have to make sure we do it right this time so we don’t get caught’.
The premier has recently unveiled a series of campaign finance reforms that would ban corporate and union donations, reduce the cap on individual donations, and introduce government subsidies for political parties. However, reforming party financing rules will not prevent the capitalists from exerting their influence over the government to represent their class interests, as the relationship between the state and the capitalists is not dependant on or built solely by how much money is exchanged between the two. The relationship is built through the historical development of the state and the capitalist class itself. The state that we have now is a capitalist state, which has been historically tempered from top to bottom to defend the interests of the whole capitalist class.
The ruling class utilizes several methods to maintain its control over the state machinery, which range from outright and vulgar bribery, as often seen in backward countries like Pakistan, to the savvy and gentlemanly art of diplomacy, lobbying and exchange-of- favours perfected in advanced and respected democracy like France. Lenin wrote in The State and Revolution:
“In a democratic republic, Engels continues, ‘wealth exercises its power indirectly, but all the more surely’, first, by means of the ‘direct corruption of officials’ (America); secondly, by means of an ‘alliance of the government and the Stock Exchange’ (France and America) ... imperialism and the domination of the banks have ‘developed’ into an exceptional art both these methods of upholding and giving effect to the omnipotence of wealth in democratic republics of all descriptions.”
Lenin continued by providing an example of how capitalists and politicians established their “friendly relations”:
“Mr. Palchinsky [of the Provisional Government] obstructed every measure intended for curbing the capitalists and their marauding practices, their plundering of the state by means of war contracts; and since later on Mr. Palchinsky, upon resigning from the Cabinet (and being, of course, replaced by another quite similar Palchinsky), was ‘rewarded’ by the capitalists with a lucrative job with a salary of 120,000 rubles per annum — what would you call that? Direct or indirect bribery?”
One hundred years later, this revolving door between public officials and the private sector remains wide open and even spinning at a faster speed despite all the rules put in place. For every regulation implemented in order to place a deadbolt through this revolving door and to “increase government accountability”, there are 10 loopholes being created to circumvent that very regulation. A 2014 report by a non-profit outfit Democracy Watch found “100 undemocratic and accountability loopholes” in Canada’s government. A similar report by a Brussels-based watchdog organization Corporate Europe Observatory, found how corporate and government officials swapped places back and forth with ease during the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations, which gave corporations a strong lobbying position.
However, the problem runs deeper than merely legal loopholes and constitutional inadequacy. Wynne’s remarks that influence peddling is “part of the democratic process”, and that everybody has been doing the same thing reveals that this problem is systemic within bourgeois democracy. No amount of regulation or policy can change it. Federal party financing rules that ban corporate donations do not make the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party less of a capitalist party. They still represent the interests of capital through the thousands of threads that have been forged between these parties and the capitalists that form their class base. In fact the more advanced a “democracy” is, the more surely wealth exercises its influence over it – albeit indirectly.
As long as the system could provide a semi-civilized existence and a promise of a better life, this corruption, collusion, and nepotism at the top could more easily be swept under the carpet. The moment the system was no longer able to provide a decent standard of living, such corruption become all the more glaring, scandalous, and repelling to the masses. We are now entering that moment, a period of austerity, of “secular stagnation” for decades to come where today is worse than yesterday and tomorrow will be worse than today. Anti-establishment moods are at all-time high, hence the enthusiasm that people display, even here in Canada, over Bernie Sanders’ assertion that “the system is rigged”.
Nothing short of a complete and revolutionary overhaul of the state can eradicate this corrupt practice of influence peddling. In fact, the roots of the problem are not merely the state alone but the fact that we have a minority class that seeks to defend its ownership of the economy (banks, factories, mines, etc.) and its right to accumulate profits from wage-labour. To remove corruption, collusion and nepotism, we have to remove the class interests that lie behind them. The problem is not the Palchinskys, the Wynnes or the Sousas, but capitalism itself that necessitates the establishment of a state that can only be a bourgeois state, the “committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie”.
We need a new society, a socialist society, in which the only influence permitted in the state is the democratic influence of the workers. In a socialist society, as we remove power away from the tiny minority of wealthy elites and corporations, support, financing and political accountability will be in the hands of the working class. The only way to end corruption is to end top-down corporate control and replace it with bottom-up workers’ control.
Lenin outlined four points of workers democracy in The State and Revolution:
“1) democratic elections of all officials with a right to recall at any time; 2) all state officials to be remunerated the same as skilled workers; 3) rotation of all bureaucratic duties, when everyone is a bureaucrat no one is a bureaucrat; 4) the abolition of the standing army, to be replaced by a democratically controlled armed people.”
These four basic conditions will ensure the democratic nature of the new society and would accomplish far more than all of the “governmental accountability” and regulations which are being debated by the Liberals and Conservatives. For the first time in history, we can build a society of genuine democracy and accountability, both economically and politically, that can eradicate all privilege, nepotism, bureaucracies and corruption. To once more quote from The Communist Manifesto, “In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.”