Simon Radford in HIPPO Reads:
It’s not often that a working paper published on an academic website creates a stir, but it seems ours has! As the Guardian Observer reports, our paper shows that for the number of big donors being nominated for positions in the UK’s House of Lords to be coincidental, it would be the equivalent of entering the National Lottery five times in a row and winning the jackpot each time. 1 in 22 Tory big donors, 1 in 14 Labour big donors, and 1 in 7 Lib Dem big donors, have been nominated for a peerage (a position in the House of Lords). Rumors have abounded in the vicinity of Westminster for some time that party leaders exchanged patronage for political financing, but denying that claim just got a whole lot harder. Calls for a wholly elected UK Second Chamber must now be deafening. However, while elections are less prone to corruption than a system of appointment, we can’t stop there. Developed democracies need to rethink the role of public financing in elections if they are going to eliminate private favors and serve the public good.
Critics might argue that a few shady characters shouldn’t be spun into a general lesson. However, by using a statistical analysis across time, across governments, and across different party leaders, we show that there is a structural problem—not a case of the corruption of a few individuals. This is the first time that academics have been able to show a direct link between donations and power over voting on specific laws, but, by adding to a literature that all points in the same direction, our work is also a window on a larger issue facing all developed democracies: inequality in economic power means that our political class responds to the wishes of the rich, not the average voter. This should worry voters in Los Angeles as much as in London, Brussels as much as in Bristol.
Of course, we’re not the first to tackle the subject: academics and activists have been doing their best to sound the alarm for the last few years.