Rome

Cabinet launches bill to abolish public funding for parties

Elimination will be gradual, over three years

Cabinet launches bill to abolish public funding for parties

Rome, May 31 - The Italian cabinet launched a bill on Friday abolishing public funding for political parties, government sources said. The elimination will be "gradual", over a period of three years. The first year, funds will be reduced to 60%, the second year 50% and 40% the third year before it is subsequently abolished altogether. Premier Enrico 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 a few days in office. 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, said a statement. 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. 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. 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. Fiorito was sentenced to three years and four months by a Rome court on Monday in a fast-track trial. The case caused the PdL's Renata Polverini to step down as governor last year. If the bill to cut party funding passes in parliament, 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.

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