The secrecy and vagueness around political donations

Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Two-thirds of parties in Parliament since 2017 face accusations from the Serious Fraud Office for their political donations.

They are variously accused of not declaring donations, filing too late, cheating in obtaining donations or illegally concealing the identity of donors.

But in a recent series for WritingJournalist Pete McKenzie shed light on another side of this situation – a practice that doesn’t outright break the law but certainly hovers around the margins.

Today the The detail he talks to Emile Donovan about the techniques used by parties to maintain the anonymity of people who donate large sums of money – although this clearly deviates from the intent of the transparency rules.

There are plenty of ways to rig the system if you’re determined to do it, and McKenzie says that at the bare minimum, we need a reform to our donation disclosure rules to get the scrutiny that the electoral system has. deserved.

And it’s not just about raising money for the publicity frenzy just before the election.

“You can use the money between campaigns,” he says.

A lot of money is used to build email and social media lists; buy advertisements; install display panels; organize fundraisers; and just to have a war chest, which helps deter challengers.

There is no limit to the amount a New Zealand-based person or business can donate to a candidate or party, provided they disclose their identity to the recipient. Anonymous donations directly to parties cannot exceed $ 1,500 – if they exceed this amount, your name will be disclosed on election returns.

McKenzie says the amounts are relatively arbitrary.

“These are thresholds that the politicians themselves have set,” he says. “They’re the ones who write the rules.

There are many reasons that someone might want to remain anonymous.

“A lot of people don’t want their names to be known to the public – they don’t want their privacy interfered with – but they still want to get involved in politics and they think a donation might be the best way to do it. . this.

“On the other hand, there are more worrying reasons. Someone who is affiliated with a lobbying firm or a particular firm or who has some interest that could be decided in the political sphere, might want to gain influence, might want to establish a relationship. But they don’t want people to know about it. They could therefore donate below the threshold to prevent their name and activities from being publicized. “

In today’s podcast, McKenzie discusses and how candidates and MPs appear to have circumvented transparency rules. Much of it is whisperings, understandings, and the letter – but not the spirit – of the law.