I said it before: Singapore lacks a political donation culture, most aptly illustrated by the recent Nicole Seah episode.
To recap, Nicole put up a Facebook posting asking for donations to cover her team’s $35,000 election expenses. What raised eyebrows was that she asked for donations to be made to a POSB account in her name. Some good Samaritans immediately urged her to use an account in NSP’s name instead, while others made sarcastic remarks such as, how do we know you won’t just take the money and leave NSP?
As expected, TNP and Shin Min pounced on this, reporting that some netizens had questioned the propriety of her actions. In response, Nicole assured the public that she will publish a full statement of accounts, and that she will channel any amounts over $35,000 to help other candidates’ expenses. She also pointed out that other candidates, such as Jeanette Chong, had also solicited donations in their own names.
In my view, this shows a lack of understanding about political donations, on Nicole’s part as well as the public. The clueless press doesn’t help either.
Why are some people concerned about giving money to an account in Nicole’s name? Donation means giving. Does anyone doubt that Nicole Seah ran a campaign and needs to pay the bills? Why quibble over which account is used to collect funds? And indeed, why should people ask to see a statement of accounts?
Unlike a charitable donation, a political donation is not an act of charity.
It is an expression of support for a party or a candidate.
Indeed, the amount of money a candidate can raise is a good proxy for the amount of broad and popular support a candidate enjoys. When Obama decided to forgo the use of public money for his campaign, relying instead on public donations (incl online donations), the level of donations that flooded in not only enabled him to run a successful campaign but also underscored the huge public support for him and helped him win the nomination and the election.
Personally, I’d prefer to donate directly to Nicole to support her, rather than to the hopeless Cheo or the useless GMS or any of the tired old warhorses in NSP. But instead of explaining it this way, Nicole chose to go on the defensive, which shows her lack of understanding of political donations.
And why is Nicole only asking for $35,000 and promising to channel the rest to other candidates once the target is reached?
Political parties and politicians need money all the time, not just for the current campaign. That’s why they do all kinds of fundraisers in the West. Politicians need to build their war chests with an eye to the future, not just cover the cost of yesterday’s campaign.
NSP or Nicole is truly shortsighted if they/she think that fund raising should stop after $35,000 is reached, or after the rest of the candidates’ expenses for their 2011 campaign are covered.
Again, it shows they don’t understand the political donations culture.
In summary, this sad episode shows that Singaporeans, incl “opp” politicians, just don’t understand a political donation culture.