Dotcom, Banks: The odd couple

Talking politics

BY GORDON CAMPBELL
Last updated 09:01 01/05/2012

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OPINION: For better or worse, internet tycoon Kim Dotcom has managed to make this entire country look like the set of a made-for-television movie in recent months.

In January there was the dawn raid with a police chopper overhead, while armed officers kicked in doors at Mr Mega-upload's mega-mansion.

Next came the revelations that our immigration authorities had foreseen the potential for embarrassment from Dotcom's presence in New Zealand and had devised a special media strategy to cope with it.

Then came suggestions that the case against Dotcom (under New Zealand law at least) might not be as robust as first thought.

To cap things off last week, it transpired that local contractors and his domestic staff might not have been the only beneficiaries of Dotcom's allegedly ill-gotten gains.

If one can believe Dotcom's version of events, Act Party leader and Epsom MP John Banks received $50,000 in donations from Dotcom for Banks' unsuccessful Auckland mayoral campaign in 2010. In Dotcom's reported version of events, Banks allegedly advised the donation be split in half, so that it could be recorded anonymously. Even if Dotcom's account is true (which remains to be seen), this would not render such actions illegal.

Under the Local Electoral Act 2001, the rules about donations to local body election campaigns are less strict than those for national elections - and the cut-off point for when donations have to be recorded is $1000. So at $10,000, $25,000 or $50,000 such donations could all legally be recorded as coming from "Anonymous".

It is, however, true that a $50,000 anonymous gift would have stuck out prominently.

Even Sky City, for example, donated only $15,000 to each of the mayoral campaigns of Banks and his main rival, Len Brown. Theoretically speaking, a cautious political operative could well seek to split and spread the size of large and noticeable donations.

In local body elections, the issue of illegality turns on whether the candidate knew, and can be proven to have known, who the anonymous donor was, by the time the campaign expenditure returns needed to be filed, 55 days after election day.

Unless an email or a thank you card (or other documented evidence) emerges showing that Banks knew that a large donation listed as "Anonymous" actually came from Dotcom, there would be no legal repercussions.

Public perception, of course, is a different matter. The incident will have done nothing to improve the public standing of politicians.

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Likewise, those Sky City donations to both the main candidates in the mayoralty campaign will be doing nothing to boost the public's confidence that the controversial Sky City "pokies for convention centre" deal in Auckland will be assessed objectively.

Len Brown, who has long been vocal about the social impact of problem gambling, still has some explaining to do about his acceptance of a $15,000 donation from the casino operator for his mayoral bid.

Not so long ago, the claim that someone arrested in an FBI/New Zealand police swoop had given $50,000 in donations to help a prominent politician would have been seen as a career-ending revelation for the politician concerned. Ironically, the fact that the perception of politicians is already at rock bottom may serve to spare Banks from much in the way of further political embarrassment.

- Kapi-Mana News

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