The Chrétien Liberals introduced grants to political parties on a per vote basis after instituting campaign finance reform legislation which banned contributions from corporations and unions. While the impulse to remove the influence of businesses or organized labour from our politics (and the special privileges which they lobby for) is a sound one the mechanism in place is inappropriate. It is precisely the sort of political speech which these laws target that we must not regulate. A better solution would be to eliminate the powers of the state to interfere in the market place or grant special privileges in the first place; to go after the cause of the disease instead of treating the symptoms. Since mainstream politicians and political parties have impressive fundraising apparatuses and wide networks of supporters they can easily leap through any hurdles imposed by the state on raising money but outsiders, with perhaps one or a few wealthy supporters, will have a very difficult time in challenging the establishment and bringing minority views into the political discourse. Similarly the per vote subsidy benefits popular political parties and makes it very difficult for any new group to emerge on the scene. Fringe parties already labour under the disadvantage of few numbers and limited resources, to add to their burdens a massive subsidy to their opponents is surely to sound their death knell, which of course was the point. Politics and more broadly government is, after all, a game whereby the strong can oppress the weak while lecturing those who are exploited about how necessary and important it is that they be plundered.
Despite the pessimism of schools of thought like the public choice economists, who argue that because the benefit from a particular mercantilist policy is so concentrated and the harm it causes so diffuse that victory for those who favour laissez-faire is impossible it is important to remember that ideas, not narrow economic interests, shape history. Freedom can win out, and has in the past, precisely because of the agitation of a small group of very committed individuals, namely the liberals of the 17th and 18th century. People like Smith, Locke, Bastiat, Turgot and Cantillon spoke out against the abuses of their time and made the modern capitalist system and the tremendous wealth it has created possible. So while it is tempting to retreat into cynicism, the urgency of our struggle should counsel against this course of action. Whether or not the future of our society is one of freedom and prosperity or despotism and despair is very much determined by our actions today.