Will third party campaign finance law increase or decrease political participation?

Today The Conversation website published an article by me criticising regulation of third parties, and another by Marian Sawer partly critiquing my article.

My article was mainly about what I regard as the systemic effects of third party regulation, which is how restricting third parties affects the overall balance of political influence. This is principally about the big third parties, the organisations capable of reaching and potentially influencing a mass audience. These include unions, business, environmental groups, and GetUp!. At the systemic level, the most important aspects of third party regulation are the caps on expenditure, and to a lesser extent the caps on donations.

Sawer’s article is mainly about what I call the participation effects of third party regulation, the opportunities that individuals and small groups have to get involved in politics. Unless many of these third parties spontaneously pursue the same causes, I don’t think they are likely to have much effect on political outcomes. But in a liberal democracy, people being able to have their say is important in itself.

According to Sawer, third party regulation could be positive for participation. The argument here seems to be that there is limited space for political communication, and to the extent to which attention is grabbed by a few big players this denies smaller groups their opportunity to be heard. Read More »