Four out of every five dollars donated to big parties in secret, sparking new push for transparency

SIMON MAUDE/STUFF

Labour Leader Jacinda Ardern takes questions in Henderson, Auckland on Saturday including Labour Party 'art' donations.

At least four out of every five dollars donated to the two big parties is given secretly, as transparency around their political funding dwindles.

More than $31 million has been donated to registered political parties in the past six years, most of that to National.

Smaller parties like the Greens publicly disclose who provided most of their funding, but the big parties are secretive. 83 per cent ($8.7m over six years) of the money donated to National is from anonymous donors, and 80 per cent ($2.8m) of that donated to Labour.

National Party leader Bill English, who visited Dunedin Hospital on Saturday, says those who make "smaller donations" ...
HAMISH McNEILLY/STUFF

National Party leader Bill English, who visited Dunedin Hospital on Saturday, says those who make "smaller donations" under $15,000 often prefer privacy around their political views.

The worst offender is NZ First: Most years, it allows every single one of its donors to remain secret.

READ MORE:
Artists' works used to funnel secret donations to Labour

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Jonathan Milne: Two-party club hides secret donors
Secret donors: The buck stops here
Public wants parties to come clean

 
Out campaigning on Saturday in Henderson, west Auckland, Labour leader Jacinda Ardern said there needed to be a balance ...
SIMON MAUDE/STUFF

Out campaigning on Saturday in Henderson, west Auckland, Labour leader Jacinda Ardern said there needed to be a balance between transparency and bureaucracy.

Stuff is calling for transparency in political funding so the identity of all donors be promptly disclosed to the Electoral Commission. Stuff proposes that loopholes allowing donors to be masked by trusts and other aggregators, like fundraising dinners and art auctions, be closed.

Are you a political donor who wishes to endorse transparency by speaking out? Email newstips@stuff.co.nz

It comes as Labour is revealed to have collected tens of thousands of dollars in anonymous donations through art auctions. The party declared the money to the Electoral Commission in the names of painters like Karl Maughan and Stanley Palmer, even though the artists never saw the money and had no idea they were being named as donors.

Auckland artist Stanley Palmer did not realise the Labour Party had named him as a big political donor. All he had done ...
DAVID WHITE/STUFF

Auckland artist Stanley Palmer did not realise the Labour Party had named him as a big political donor. All he had done was give them three small prints.

Last election, leader David Cunliffe vowed to clean up the party's donations. "A lot of New Zealanders are becoming increasingly concerned about what they are learning about the influence of big money in politics – whether single donors like Colin Craig and Kim Dotcom, or the pervasive influence of large corporates."

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But out campaigning on Saturday afternoon, new leader Jacinda Ardern took a more cautious line. "Certainly transparency is important to us and the rules we have to follow," she said. "We need to get the balance right without being too bureaucratic with it too."

Asked whether the party still supported full transparency, general secretary Andrew Kirton said: "I think we'd have to consider that and take a position because we've got to balance that out with individuals' right to privacy.

Last year New Zealand First, led by Winston Peters, did not disclose the identities of any of its donors.
LAWRENCE SMITH/STUFF

Last year New Zealand First, led by Winston Peters, did not disclose the identities of any of its donors.

"I don't think someone who gives us $100 or $500 or $30, having their name out there, if they don't want that to be the case, is really necessary or warranted. What we're trying to prevent here is very deep pockets unfairly influencing an election."

At present, though, the threshold is not $100 or $500 – it's $15,000. Anything less than $15,000 can be donated anonymously, and other loopholes exist to keep still bigger donors' names out of the public domain, such as fundraising dinners and Labour's art auctions.

The Greens called for greater openness. Green Party leader James Shaw said the $15,000 threshold for disclosure was too high and the public should be consulted on a new, lower threshold. The party has previous put that number at $1000.

Painter Karl Maughan says Labour should declare the names of the people who stumped up $60,000 cash – not hide their ...
ROSS GIBLIN/STUFF

Painter Karl Maughan says Labour should declare the names of the people who stumped up $60,000 cash – not hide their identities behind his name.

"We'd like to see more transparency around political donations," Shaw said. "That needs to happen for all political parties at the same time, so none are disadvantaged."

"We have turned down donations from the oil and gas industry in the past. We refuse to accept donations in exchange for setting our policy or direction."

Prime Minister Bill English maintained the National Party's staunch opposition to disclosing the identities of their donors.

"National isn't planning to change the rules about donations to political parties," a spokesperson said. "They strike the right balance between transparency and privacy. All donations over $15,000 are already disclosed and people making smaller donations often prefer privacy around their political views."​

A NZ First spokeswoman said: "We have had no chance to discuss this as a caucus or party, and in the absence of that discussion our position would be we support the current law."

 - Sunday Star Times

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