New Zealand cracks down on foreign political donations

WELLINGTON (Reuters) – New Zealand will ban foreign donations to politicians and tighten disclosure rules for political advertising, the government announced on Tuesday, as concerns over foreign interference mount ahead of the United States election. next year.

The move follows warnings, including from the country’s intelligence agency, of the risk of foreign interference in New Zealand politics.

The government has introduced legislation in parliament banning donations above NZ$50 ($32) to political parties and candidates by foreigners, a sharp drop from the current threshold of NZ$1,500.

“The risk of foreign interference in elections is a growing international phenomenon and can take many forms, including donations. New Zealand is not immune to this risk,” Justice Minister Andrew Little said in a statement.

The new laws would also require the names and addresses of those who fund election ads in all media to be published to reduce the “avalanche of fake news on social media” that has marred elections abroad, said Little.

Questions about New Zealand political donations were raised in 2018 after a lawmaker accused the leader of the opposition National Party of hiding a NZ$100,000 donation from a Chinese businessman for avoid declaring it. The leader of the National Party denied the accusation.

New Zealand will hold its next general election at the end of 2020 and Little said further steps could be taken to counter foreign influence based on recommendations from a parliamentary committee looking into the matter.

New Zealand’s allies in the “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing community – Australia, Britain, Canada and the United States – have all expressed concern about foreign influence in politics these days. last years.

Australia bans donations from foreigners over AUD 1,000 ($679), while Canada bans those over 20 Canadian dollars ($15) and the UK blocks those over 500 pounds ($641). dollars).

New Zealand’s ban would cover people living outside New Zealand who were not eligible to vote or New Zealand citizens, as well as unincorporated companies with overseas registered offices .

Figures from a Ministry of Justice publication detailing overseas political donations showed that in 2018 the ruling Labor Party received a total of NZ$900 in overseas donations, while the Green Party received a total of NZ$510.

During 2017, the last election year, the National Party had received seventeen donations totaling NZ$17,180 as well as two which totaled more than NZ$50,000 – most of which were returned to the donors as they exceeded the current legal threshold.

While the New Zealand government did not identify a specific threat on Tuesday, British and American intelligence agencies accuse Russia of interfering in the domestic politics and elections of several Western countries, including the US presidential election in 2016. Russia Denies Allegations.

New Zealand’s intelligence chief said in April the agency was concerned about the activities of foreign state actors, including attempts to covertly influence politicians and surveil expatriate communities in the South Pacific nation. .

Australia has accused China of similar activities and cracked down on foreign political donations and lobbying. China also denies the allegations.

Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Stephen Coates and Lincoln Feast.