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Jennifer vanHeerde-Hudson and Justin Fisher, "Parties heed (with caution): Public knowledge of and attitudes towards party finance in Britain," Party Politics, 19 (January, 2013), 41-60. [Available at http://ppq.sagepub.com/content/vol19/issue1/ ]

First paragraph:
In this article we examine public knowledge of, and attitudes to, party finance in Britain. In comparison with other issues that dominate the public agenda more or less routinely, party finance emerges (usually) in response to perceived scandal or, more accurately, 'episodes' (Fisher, 2009). These episodes reinforce public perceptions of the negative influence of money in public life, and generate public distaste for parties and further calls for reform. Indeed, the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act (PPERA, 2000), the most significant overhaul of party finance regulation in over a century, was motivated in large part by a series of allegations of sleaze that affected both the Conservatives and Labour (Clift and Fisher, 2004). While the PPERA reforms were comprehensive, party finance was back on the agenda in 2005 as a result of loophole-seeking behaviour by parties' attempts to secure loans rather than donations, circumventing the spirit of the new law (Fisher, 2009). The subsequent Phillips Review of Party Finance (2007) produced a number of recommendations, some of which emerged in the Political Parties and Elections Act (PPEA) 2009. However, the Review failed to achieve inter-party agreement on key issues such as voluntary funding and a cap on donations. As a consequence of this and more recent episodes, party finance is likely to remain on the political agenda.

Figures and Tables:
Table 1. Estimates of party spending in 2005 general election
Table 2. Attitudes towards current levels of campaign spending
Table 3. Estimates of sources of donations
Table 4. Perceptions of appropriate limit for party donations % Individuals Business/Corp.
Table 5. General attitudes towards party finance
Table 6. Factor analysis of attitudes towards campaign spending and party finance
Table 7. Perceived reasons for donations
Table 8a. Matrix of Phi coefficients for perceived reasons for donations
Table 8b. Exploratory factor analysis of perceived reasons for donations
Table 9. Explaining attitudes towards party finance--Anti Party Finance
Table 10. Explaining attitudes towards party finance--Reformers

Last Paragraph:
In summary, the British public knows little of party finance and, consequently, public opinion is unlikely to offer a rational course of action for effective reform. Thus, in this case, there may be reason for parties and politicians to be free of the constraints of public opinion. Future reform efforts may be better suited to finding a workable equilibrium between income and expenditure, and transparency and accountability, rather than using party finance general reform as a vehicle aimed at increasing trust in government. Indeed, these findings have wider implications, both outside Britain and for other areas of reform. The results presented are remarkably similar to those observed in the United States, and suggest that there may be common patterns in terms of public attitudes to party finance and broader positions on system malaise. Political scientists may wish to consider this, too, when advocating the importance of public opinion as a spur to reform in other low salience or low knowledge areas such as House of Lords reform or possibly even electoral reform. Of course, this is not an argument for ignoring public opinion altogether. Rather, it is a note of caution for those who seek to make significant reforms based on the sometimes selective use of public opinion..

Last updated December 2012