Can Money Buy Referendums?

Can Money Buy Referendums?

Can money buy referendumsQuestion (4/7): Another argument against direct democracy is that wealthy lobbying groups can “buy” a positive referendum result with the use of advertisements, TV time etc. Is this true? Do you have any relevant examples from Switzerland? What kind of measures have you employed in Switzerland to secure a fair representation of both opinions? Can citizens resist the power of wealthy lobbies?

Answer: Unregulated or dark money corrupts democracy and turns it into plutocracy (for example: USA). Dark money undermines both, representative and direct democracy. It is a major problem also for the Swiss democracy. Switzerland stands out for her inability to regulate financing of political parties, election and referendum campaigns. The missing transparency impairs fairness. There are some measures in terms of more fairness: a) every citizens receives a referendum booklet, also called the “Explanation of the Federal Council”, in which the proposals being submitted to the voters are explained and which includes the arguments of the committee responsible for the initiative or referendum together with the opinion of the Federal Council; b) there is a political advertising ban on radio and television.

Money influences politics by giving it directly to politicians, political parties and referendum campaigns. US and Swiss experience shows that citizens can resist and money power does not always win, but there is no doubt that money buys influence and helps to swing public opinion. To this one perhaps has to add, that it is easier to buy a majority of parliament (senate) than a majority of the people. But more important, in my view, is the indirect influence of money power through the media, think tanks, foundations, schools, universities, NGOs … that form and inform people’s thinking and political imagination and prepare the ground for the rule of the rich (for an illuminating essay on this topic see Roy, Arundhati. 2012. Capitalism – A Ghost Story).


Herman, Edward S. & Chomsky, Noam. Manufacturing Consent. New York: Pantheon Books. (download PDF)
Mitchell, Bill – Reframing the Progressive Agenda, London (Click to watch the video)
Roelofs, Joan. 2003. Foundations and Public Policy: The Mask of Pluralism. Albany: State University of New York Press.
About Joan Roelofs Study on the Role of US Foundations
Foundations and American Power by Joan Roelofs***
The Third Sector as a Protective Layer for Capitalism by Joan Roelofs***


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