Swiss want more transparency over party funding

The Swiss public is overwhelmingly in favour of a transparent system of party financing, a new survey finds. It comes after the Social Democrat president, Ursula Koch, called for funding reforms to avoid potential conflicts of interest.

This content was published on January 9, 2000 minutes

The Swiss public is overwhelmingly in favour of a transparent and open system of party financing, a new survey finds. Nearly 80 per cent believe political parties should disclose the source of their funding.

Swiss opinion about party financing has hardened in the wake of the recent scandal in Germany. A poll carried out by the Sonntagszeitung and Swiss German television reveals that 77.7 per cent of respondents expect politicians to be completely open about the identity of their benefactors and the size of their donations.

The same survey also finds the Swiss public resolutely opposed to the state funding of political parties. More than 66 per cent rejected a suggestion by the president of the Social Democrats, Ursula Koch, that the taxpayer should foot the bills of political parties.

But 41 per cent of those questioned equally opposed or supported the current system of parties relying on private companies and individuals.

The Sonntagszeitung reports sharp divisions between the public and politicians over party funding. It quotes the general secretary of the Radical party, Johannes Matyassy, as rejecting absolutely the call for more transparency.

"If I revealed the identity of my sponsors, I would lose them all," is his justification. The Radical party derives 70 per cent of its income from such sponsors.

Similar sentiments have been expressed by the president of the Swiss People's Party, Ueli Maurer.

It is clear that Swiss political parties are having more difficulty paying their bills. Recently, Credit Suisse cut its donations to two of the four parties in government - the Radicals and the People's Party - over criticism of the global settlement the banks reached in 1988 to settle the issue of dormant Holocaust-era accounts.

Moreover, the Sonntagszeitung quotes a political analyst at Bern University, Andreas Ladner, as saying that, unlike in most developed democracies, political parties in Switzerland are notoriously short of cash and "live from hand to mouth".

For the political establishment, it was the Credit Suisse decision to scale back on donations that brought the issue to the fore. It prompted the Social Democrat president, Ursula Koch, to call for funding reforms amid allegations that parties which accept private donations are likely to be influenced by private interests.

This has been roundly denied by the centre-right parties. Radical Party spokesman Guido Schommer said last week that political parties had proved they were not susceptible to the influence of their sponsors.

"There have been problems when decisions have been taken that weren't in the interests of a company, which donated money. But these problems show that political parties are independent," he said.

The Social Democrats are the only party in government which does not accept funding from business, and relies exclusively on its members.

The survey questioned 1,000 people, between 18 and 74. All interviews were conducted by telephone, and are considered to be an accurate representation of the views of the Swiss population.

It comes hard on the heels of a party financing scandal in Germany, which has severely damaged the opposition Christian Democrats, and may yet destroy the reputation of former chancellor, Helmut Kohl, who has refused to disclose sources of party funding during his time in office.

From staff and wire reports

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