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Ireland can't afford to ignore the danger of dark money

Money in brown envelopes may be a thing of the past, but the super-rich now have more sophisticated ways to wield influence, as we saw with the Brexit vote and Trump's election. Peter Geoghegan assesses the threat to our own democracy

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New politics: Boris Johnson on the campaign trail with the Vote Leave Brexit Battle Bus before the 2016 referendum

New politics: Boris Johnson on the campaign trail with the Vote Leave Brexit Battle Bus before the 2016 referendum

Electoral law expert: Jennifer Kavanagh

Electoral law expert: Jennifer Kavanagh

Peter Geoghegan

Peter Geoghegan

Kirsty Anderson/Herald and Times

Peter Geoghegan's new book Democracy for Sale: Dark Money and Dirty Politics is out now

Peter Geoghegan's new book Democracy for Sale: Dark Money and Dirty Politics is out now

Donald Trump during his campaign for the White House in 2016

Donald Trump during his campaign for the White House in 2016

Getty Images

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New politics: Boris Johnson on the campaign trail with the Vote Leave Brexit Battle Bus before the 2016 referendum

'Power corrupts" is one of the most famous maxims in politics. In Ireland, we know all too well how public life can be corrupted by money and influence. Growing up in Longford in the 1990s, one of my abiding memories is the seemingly endless corruption tribunals involving senior politicians, backroom fixers and businessmen (they always seemed to be men).

But if you want to influence politics beyond a planning decision or a dodgy public contract, doling out cash in brown envelopes is a very blunt tool. Politicians might not do what they say. They might get voted out or be demoted. Besides, what if instead of getting land rezoned or a sweetheart deal, you want to change a country's entire political culture? The way to do that isn't to buy the politicians - it is to own the ideas that dominate the political conversation.

This is what has happened in the United States and the United Kingdom in recent years as increasingly amounts of secretive 'dark money' has flooded into politics, aided by the rise of anonymous digital campaigning and weak electoral laws. Where buying politics once involved backhanders to politicians, now it's about buying the system itself. The result is a world of Donald Trump, Brexit and social media partisanship that many experts believe is imperilling the future of democracy.