Don’t let politicians bury political donations’ scandals – put voters in the front seat!

This is the time of year when governments make unpopular announcements or issue media releases when they want to bury public discussion on a sensitive issue. This is sometimes accompanied by ineffectual howls of protest from the opposition but most public attention has shifted to Christmas parties, buying gifts and planning holidays.

Last week the government released a consultation document on proposed changes to political donations for the 2023 general election with feedback open from 3 December to 25 January – neatly spanning the leadup to Xmas and the summer holidays.

But no complaints this time. For National and Labour and New Zealand First – who each have a long history of shameful behaviour in hiding the identity of their political donors – the less said about this the better.

The public are not happy so the government needs to look busy doing something – so what are they proposing? This is from the Ministry of Justice:

Proposed changes to disclosure rules and thresholds:

    1. Lowering public disclosure threshold for donations to $1,500 for parties
    2. Increasing frequency of donation reporting
    3. Removing the requirement for parties to publicly disclose, within 10 days, the amount donated, and identity of the donor, in cases where the donor has donated over $30,000 within the previous 12 months
    4. Introducing requirements for parties and candidates to disclose more details about in-kind donations.

Proposed changes to reporting:

    1. Introducing reporting requirements for non-anonymous donations under $1,500
    2. Introducing a requirement on political parties to publicly disclose financial statements
    3. Introducing a requirement to publicly report on candidate loans.

We are also interested in your views on whether or not to introduce a ban on anonymous donations, which would potentially have impacts on transparency and also on compliance and reporting requirements. 

Overview of the changes

The changes being proposed are set out in this document:

Summary of proposed changes to political donations rules

This briefing includes information on the context and rationale for considering these particular changes.

The proposed changes are minimal and cosmetic – “putting lipstick on a pig” type of changes. They will not address the threat to our democracy from the 1% and their political representatives in the major political parties.

For example there is nothing in these proposals which would deal with the cynical, egregious behaviour of Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel who filed an election return which declared her husband as the donor for $1000 in auction goods (mainly bottles of wine) and the $39,100 raised from the auction.

When challenged by myself and local media Dalziel finally produced a list of six donors who paid more than $1500 for bottles of wine.

 

Wei Min Lu ($17,850 donation) 

Yong Jiu Chen ($3920 donation)

Zhi Cheng Tan ($2800 donation)

Jianping Wang ($2350 donation)

Grandland Investment/Bing Chen ($2950 donation)

Yang Xia Wu ($1750 donation)

 

These names should have appeared on Dalziel’s election return. In the subsequent investigation the Serious Fraud Office said they couldn’t identify evidence of intention to mislead by Dalziel and declined to prosecute. This despite the mayor’s explanation lacking any shred of credibility.

Put simply our election donation laws are weak and easily evaded and when politicians are caught out they are not treated seriously by our watchdog organisations.

I think ALL political donations should be publicly notified – down to the last dollar. Our electoral commission should maintain a spreadsheet for each registered political party which the party is required to update on a weekly basis, and a daily basis during election campaigns.

As voters we should know who is paying for the spreading of political messages BEFORE we vote. At the moment donation and expenses returns are filed many months after elections when it’s too late to be of value to voters.

And we should follow Canada’s example and set a maximum annual amount from any individual or corporate donor – $1000 would be a sensible amount for Aotearoa New Zealand.

The issue of a party “borrowing” money to run an election campaign is not acceptable. Such “loans” could be paid back by big anonymous donors well after election expenses returns have been filed and voters have been screwed without anyone knowing about it.

The argument the Electoral Commission uses to counter all donations being made public is that our secret ballot elections mean people do not have to reveal which party they vote for and this could be undermined if people have to reveal a minor donation to a political party.

This doesn’t wash – our election system is too important to be undermined by donors and political parties who go to extraordinary lengths to keep their donors hidden from us. We should know all their names. If this means political parties have more trouble raising funds that is no restriction on democracy – it just means they will have to spend money more carefully and provide decent policies to gain political support. In any case their hands are already deep in the public purse to pay for their political advertisements.

40 years ago Labour and National were mass based parties with hundreds of thousands of members. Today they are hollow shells which rely on large corporate donations to run election campaigns rather than the cake stalls and raffles of the past. Now as like never before our democratic values and political polices are up for sale to the highest bidders. It’s time to take our democracy out of the hands of our political parties and their big business friends and put voters in the front seat.

The main political parties hope you won’t call them out on this issue. Ignore them. Give your feedback here before you sink into the festive season.

https://consultations.justice.govt.nz/policy/political-donations/

Original Source: https://thedailyblog.co.nz/2021/12/15/dont-let-politicians-bury-political-donations-scandals-put-voters-in-the-front-seat/

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