Ban on anonymous political donations among electoral law reform options
The ban on anonymous political donations is one of the possible changes to the electoral law being considered by the government.
Justice Minister Kris Faafoi announced in October that the government would undertake a major overhaul of the way elections are conducted, with specific “targeted changes” to the way donations are disclosed and the general Māori list to come into effect for them. 2023 elections.
The Justice Department on Friday released a consultation paper on possible changes to political donations on which it seeks public comment.
One of the proposed changes is a ban on anonymous political donations. The document also proposed to lower the threshold for the disclosure of donors by political parties from $ 15,000 to $ 1,500 and to require political parties to make their annual financial statements public.
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The ACT party has called the possible changes “constitutionally dangerous”, while the Green Party has supported the changes aimed at curbing what it claims is undue influence from big donors.
The Justice Department, in backgrounders, said there was “a clear public interest in understanding the potential financial influences on key players in our democratic system.”
“Recent high profile incidents involving donations to political parties or major candidates have raised public concerns about the level of transparency and complexity of our donation regime.
“Each incident has been of a different nature and this suggests that there may be a number of vulnerabilities in the current settings that merit further attention.”
University of Otago law professor Andrew Geddis said there were reasons for allowing small anonymous donations that were not “bad”, including that a donor might not wish the party would sue them for more money in the future.
“Our system is not going to be corrupted by forcing people to give $ 200 or $ 300, anonymously, or even $ 1,000,” he said.
“If it’s your money, and you want to give it to the party, and it doesn’t really pose a threat to a bigger democracy, why shouldn’t it?” “
The seven changes being considered, such as lowering the disclosure threshold, are not a “big overhaul” of the system, he said.
“Decreasing [the threshold] up to $ 1,500, it is much more difficult to divide donations to avoid disclosure. “
Splitting donations over $ 15,000 to avoid disclosure was considered a crime under the current campaign donation regime.
In an ongoing court case, former National Party Congressman Jami-Lee Ross, three businessmen – Yikun Zhang, Shijia (Colin) Zheng and Hengjia Zheng – and six others have been charged with fraud donation for donation. to the National Party. Six other people have been charged with fraud relating to donations to the Labor Party.
“If the disclosure threshold is $ 1,500, it gets really, really tough, doesn’t it? If you want to donate $ 50,000, you have to find about 40 people to share it. And the more you try to divide the more likely to get caught doing it, ”Geddis said.
He said a requirement that parties make annual financial reports public could align the regime with charities, which have comparable disclosure requirements.
“That would say maybe a lot more about how much money is spent on things like opinion polls, travel and all those kinds of things,” he said.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the government has yet to determine whether it will support a ban on anonymous donations, among other options on the table.
“We’re really interested in what we could do to really build people’s confidence in their democracy,” she said.
ACT leader David Seymour said the changes would be “constitutionally dangerous” and only served to help the government’s election campaign.
“They are not proposing this change to solve a public problem … Labor thinks, rightly or wrongly, that it will make it more difficult for the opposition to raise funds,” he said.
“I hear people say that they are afraid to donate because they fear political reprisals, because their company will seek contracts with the government, or because they feel they will be ostracized or attacked. one way or another.
“People are in court. Well, yes, it shows that the law is working.
He said ACT would likely oppose any changes to the electoral law, including any requirement that the party make its financial reports public.
Green Party justice spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman said the party wanted a lower threshold for disclosure of donations, but not an outright ban on anonymous donations.
Ghahraman said questions had been raised about foreign countries and large corporations exerting disproportionate influence over elected officials. An example of this, she said, was donations from fishing companies that may have influenced the decision of the previous Labor coalition government to install surveillance cameras on fishing vessels.
“There are some practical issues around anonymous donation, you know, for example, people will say, ‘Well, when you fundraise at a bake sale or at a market, how do you actually volunteer? who verify very small donations? “
“We would probably be in favor of a lower threshold allowing this type of fundraising. “
Ghahraman said the Green Party supports the proposal that political parties make their annual reports public.
National Justice Party spokesman Paul Goldsmith, who took over the justice portfolio for the party on Monday, said the party caucus would discuss the issue on Tuesday.
A Maori Party spokeswoman said the party will announce its position on possible changes to the electoral law once a bill is introduced in the House.