Letta's govt moves to scrap state party funding

Guidelines issued on lobbying, tax breaks

Letta's govt moves to scrap state party funding

(By Christopher Livesay) Rome, May 24 - Premier Enrico Letta's left-right government agreed to scrap public funding of Italian political parties at Friday's cabinet meeting. "In the cabinet we reached an agreement to abolish public funding of the parties," Letta said via his Twitter account @EnricoLetta. Guidelines to the reform include "the definition of strict procedures regarding transparency statutes and budgets of the parties", "implementing tax breaks for people who donate to parties," and parameters on lobbying, according to a statement. Letta, who last month became premier of an unprecedented left-right coalition after two months of post-election gridlock, vowed to "revolutionize" party funding after only several days in office. Just prior to his election, a group of so-called "wise men" called on by the president to hash out reforms and policies that all parties could agree on, advised against cutting party funding in order "to prevent private wealth from improperly influencing politics". Three-time premier Silvio Berlusconi, a dominant figure in Italian politics, is a multi-billionaire. But Beppe Grillo's anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, which won about a quarter of the vote in February elections and refuses to accept public financing of any kind, pressed the center-left Democratic Party (PD) of Letta and Berlusconi's center-right People of Freedom (PdL) party to adopt the stance. M5S Senate Whip Vito Crimi called Letta's announcement Friday "the shot at the end of the election campaign". Last year a series of public-funds scandals hit regional and local governments across the country, involving parties across the political spectrum. They culminated in the October arrest of Franco Fiorito, PdL caucus leader in the Lazio region, for allegedly skimming off millions of euros of public money for personal use. The case caused the PdL's Renata Polverini to step down as governor. If the bill to cut party funding passes, Italy may be on the verge of adopting a campaign-finance system similar to the United States, where parties rely heavily on deep-pocketed donors, and the influence of lobbies is significant. "It would be wise to move toward the American model, with transparent lobbies and tax breaks for private donors," said Daniele Capezzone, PdL coordinator and head of the House Finance Committee. "That's the best route to sound politics in the developed West". Dario Nardella, a center-left MP, said the goal was to "cut public funding by the summer. The willingness of the government to present a bill quickly would be a positive development". Riccardo Nuti, House deputy whip MP for the M5S which has made party-finance reform a central platform, was less optimistic. "I don't think the proposal will ever go beyond the surface," he said. "(The bill) will certainly be devoid of content". Foreshadowing the government agreement Friday, Letta told the powerful Confindustria employers' confederation at their annual meeting Thursday that party funding would indeed me scrapped. Following that, he said, would be a reduction in the number of MPs.

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