Over half of major political cash comes from donations of over $15,000
Over half of major political donations come from wealthy individuals able to splash out $15,000 or more, new research shows.
Fully 52 percent of the money from donations over $1500 in 2011-2016 came in chunks of $15,000 or more. Donations under $1500 aren't declared, but aren't thought to make up a significant percentage of party funding given the small population of New Zealand.
Donations are used - along with public broadcast funding - to cover advertising, polling, and ground operations outside of Parliament. Parties in Parliament also receive a set amount of public funding they can use for staff, research, polling, and even advertising outside of the three months before an election.
Journalist and academic Max Rashbrooke put together the numbers for a report on open government being released on Tuesday. He thinks that the donations clearly buy some kind of influence.
"If parties are reliant on very wealthy people for half of their donations, then they aren't going to ignore them are they? I think it must lead to influence for at least a certain class of people," Rashbrooke said.
"We are very sceptical of politics and politicians usually. It would be very strange if we were all of a sudden naive and assume these people are just giving money as a public service or because they really like the party."
While the general public often think about donations in terms of trade unions and industry lobby groups, Rashbrooke said the vast majority of funding comes from individual donors.
National is overwhelmingly the largest recipient of donations, raising $11.7m over the six years between 2011 and 2016, almost three times Labour's $3.9m. But just 22 percent of their funds come from donations of over $15,000.
Parties don't have to report what they spend their money on outside of the three-month campaign period, but National are reportedly "addicted" to private polling, which allows them to constantly test new policies and messaging with the public.
Political scientist Bryce Edwards said international research showed large donations usually followed electoral success, rather than the other way around.
"Large donors like to donate to parties that are doing well. That's why Labour did so well in the 80s, 90s, and 2000s - they were competitors," Edwards said.
Given National had been very successful in subsequent elections, large donations would be seen as money well spent.
National Party president Peter Goodfellow has been asked for comment.
DOES IT ACTUALLY HELP?
Large donations are not necessary for success and certainly do not guarantee it.
The Internet Party and the Conservatives both raised more than the Greens and Labour over the period, but neither have MPs in Parliament.
And New Zealand First - who raised the least by far over the period, just $319,000 - are polling on level with the Greens and are widely seen as "kingmakers" in the next Parliament.
Edwards noted that parliamentary funding "dwarves" donated funding. New Zealand First will receive $11.6m in Parliamentary funding during the next fiscal year.
"Parliamentary parties have access to highly lucrative budgets with very few rules on how they use them. Those millions of dollars have much more impact," Edwards said.
New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said his party delivered more with less.
"New Zealand First has the most professional presentation and efficient delivery of party policies, which belies the fact we don't have a substantial amount of donations."
"Last election we delivered far more for far less – with spending of 92 cents a vote while others were as high as $30. It goes without saying if we had more we'd do far more."
"Maybe all the other parties are easy to buy."