Political donations: National law cries foul of government changes to donation rules, Greens want cap

To end a long-standing bipartisan agreement on political donations, the National Party is unlikely to back the government’s change to the donations law, which means that anyone who donates more than 5 000 dollars must be publicly named.

Justice Minister Kiri Allan introduced changes to the donations law, including lowering the public disclosure limit for donors from $15,000 to $5,000 by the 2023 election.

Allan said lowering the disclosure threshold addresses public concerns about the transparency of the donation regime and will increase confidence in the electoral system.

However, National spokesman Chris Penk said this would inevitably mean people would be less willing to donate – and believed it was intended to strengthen the case for more public funding of political parties. , which National was opposed to. He said there were legitimate reasons people wanted to donate without being named.

National’s caucus would make a decision on the next change to the law on Tuesday, but the party had already made clear it did not support changes to the current $15,000 disclosure threshold.

In 2020, National’s donation return showed that 117 people gave between $5,000 and $15,000, for a total of $1.16 million. Labor had 38 donors in the same tranche, totaling $359,400. Currently, parties only need to indicate how many donations of this size they have received and the total.

It would end the bipartisan agreement on the donations regime that has existed since the 2005 Election Finances Act set the rules that are still largely in place today.

However, there have been calls for further reform – including from the Prime Minister – after Serious Fraud Office investigations into the handling of donations received by National, Labor and NZ First. All three investigations resulted in legal proceedings. The government has started a wider review of election laws which will also look at donation rules, but caretaker Prime Minister Grant Robertson said these were changes that could be made in time for 2023 rather than waiting the exam.

Both Chief Law Officer David Seymour and Penk said court cases show the current law is working.

Seymour said it was outrageous that the government was trying to push through the changes before the next election rather than consulting more widely.

“Everyone supports openness and transparency, but these changes have nothing to do with that and Labor cannot explain why they are needed.

“There is no evidence that donations of $15,000 distort politics in any way. not understand the cost of a modern campaign.”

Greens spokeswoman for electoral reform Golriz Ghahraman welcomed the change, saying it was something they had been calling for for years.

“Finally, we will be able to see how money influences decisions that affect all of our lives.”

However, she said it should go further — including a $35,000 cap on donations.

In the first six months of this year, National reported $2 million in donations of more than $30,000 — a huge gain for a non-election year that was mostly the result of campaign fundraising by the former congresswoman. Paula Bennett. Act has so far disclosed $1 million in major donations so far this year. Currently, donors over $15,000 must be disclosed and donations over $30,000 must be disclosed within 10 days.

In addition to the disclosure limit, the changes will also mean that parties must disclose the number and value of party donations under $1,500 that were not anonymous, and the proportion of in-kind donations – such as property or services rather than cash. .

It will also require parties to make their financial statements public each year.

The 2005 reforms removed the authorization of large anonymous donations or the authorization to screen donations through a third party, such as a trust. National kept the donation rules in place when it revised the election laws three years later.

Allan also announced that for the 2023 election, a temporary extension of out-of-country voting will be allowed. This would mean that the voting eligibility criteria for people abroad would be extended from three to six years for citizens and from one to four years for permanent residents.

Allan said this had to take into account the disruption caused by border closures during Covid-19. “While many requirements have been lifted, overseas voters still face significant financial, travel, health and logistical hurdles to returning home, including the risk of further Covid-19 restrictions.”