How can we prise corporate hands from the throat of our democracy?

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Prising corporate hands from the throat of our democracy is more important than ever. The public mood does not favour going back to “business as usual” after the pandemic where we all work hard to increase the wealth of the one percent. But any break from “business as usual” will be extremely difficult because our main political parties are heavily reliant on corporate donations to fund their election campaigns.

Once upon a time National and Labour had tens of thousands of members and were more strongly democratic than they are today.

Policy debates began in branches and made their way through regional conferences to annual party conferences where issues would be thrashed out on the conference floor for the whole country to see. Some of those issues would make their way into party manifestos and public debates at election time.

Local party branches were the driving force for election fundraising, running cake stalls and raffles to brings in the small notes and coins which would build slowly into a campaign fund. A friend of mine was such a staunch Labour supporter she ran a cake stall at her back gate on a busy Auckland road every Saturday morning in election year, selling cakes and muffins baked by local branch supporters. It was a political party version of “Ladies a plate please”.

Today National and Labour are a slim shadow of their former selves. Membership figures are a fraction of what they were in the middle decades of last century, reflecting a drop in voter confidence in political parties generally and subsequently lower voter turnouts in national elections.

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Policy debates are now pedestrian and off limits to the media (policy is mostly left to MPs) while the main role of party conferences is to provide an enthusiastic audience for the party leader to address – highly orchestrated events designed for prime-time television.
Needless to say, cake stalls and raffles no longer raise enough money for election campaigns so Labour, National and New Zealand First are now heavily reliant on corporate donations. In return, big business expects corporate-friendly policies. For example no increase in corporate taxes or any regulations which could stem the tide of corporate profits, irrespective of the impact on the rest of us.

Public concern about corporate pipers calling the policy tune for political parties has led to some rules about the transparency in party donations.

However the one constant in national and local body politics is the length to which politicians go to hide the identities of their big donors.

Along with New Zealand First, both National and Labour are embarrassed to reveal the extent to which they are reliant on big business and the corporates themselves are equally keen to keep their influence over our politicians away from the public gaze.

Four National Party figures are currently embroiled in a court case where it is alleged two donations of $100,000 were deliberately split into amounts that would come under the $15,000 limit above which the donors would have to be identified. New Zealand First is being investigated by the Serious Fraud Office in a similar situation where large donations were allegedly channelled into a “New Zealand First Foundation” and then used to pay New Zealand First election expenses. Local body politics is similarly tainted with the re-elected mayors of our two largest cities under Serious Fraud Office investigations over allegedly failing to identify their big donors.

It’s clear to most of us that tighter and more robust laws are needed to safeguard our democracy from this ever-encroaching influence of the corporate sector over our political parties.

So what changes would make a difference?

Parliament voted for one significant change late last year to ban foreign donations of more than $50 but this applies only to national elections. It must apply to local body elections as well.

All donations to parties or candidates should be in the name of individuals who are eligible voters rather than companies, where the connections are often unclear, and we should know their names before we vote. Currently candidates are only required to reveal their election donors many weeks after the election.

This issue became particularly important in the Wellington local body election campaign last year when a single large donor had a dramatic impact on the mayoral campaign. The public found out about this big donor before the election but there was no legal requirement for the candidate to revel this beforehand. There should be.

We should insist that all publicly notifiable donations are out in the open at least a week BEFORE an election with it being an offence to receive donations after this time rather than months afterwards.

And why should the publicly notifiable limit for political parties be set at $15,000? Why not reduce the threshold for public notification to $100. We could even look at setting a maximum amount any individual could contribute to an election campaign.

There’s also an argument to make for state funding of political party election campaigns. We already fund around 80% of the activities of our main political parties with just the last 20% raised through donations. Paying this last 20% from the public purse would be a cheap price to help protect democracy.

If we don’t want to return to “business as usual” it’s time to wrench our democracy back from the tenacious grasp of corporate power and its political lackies.

18 COMMENTS

  1. Well IF Jacinda wins a second term in government she’s going to be forced through pain of extinction to go even further left than the policy platform she campaigned on in 2017. Obviously there’s an issue that these promises are beyond her economic and military abilities but then there’s the claim this turmoil demands radical answers for instance she may very well have to do what she couldn’t previously and go even further than implementing a Capital Gains Tax.

    The government across the board and business demand that there can not be a return to austerity and the people won’t accept austerity this time either. At least in 2008 John Key could blame single mothers on welfare or at least he didn’t punish Paula Bennet (the then welfare minister) for being an absolute arsehole and sell all the state housing so people couldn’t afford houses and it was this really strong ideological onslaught against the most vulnerable people just to pay for all the bad bets on Wall Street Yknow and the people just can’t accept that anymore.

    Now we are in this situation where people are being told that they can not work anymore and they have to stay at home so that we can save old people’s lives. So that stick that was used to beat beneficiaries isn’t there anymore because beneficiaries are doing the right thing and staying at home on the governments purse, and now the bourgeoisie couldn’t possibly say to the proletariat now you pay for it; unless it’s like “well they where going to die anyway” kind of argument.

    That’s why I think we all have to wake up strong and stand strong together and say that none of the working class is going to pay for this crises.

  2. Rumour has it that all the people going to get liquor from across Auckland, due to the inexplicable decision to keep liquor stores open in West Auckland in Lockdown Level 4, also led to the Covid cluster that is killing people in the Te Atatu’s CHT St Margarets residential aged care. Obviously everyone already knows the dangers of smoking but apparently tobacco factories are essential business too and kept open doing Level 4.

    “Fifteen cases of Covid-19 have been linked to an Auckland rest home.

    Staff and residents at Te Atatu’s CHT St Margarets residential aged care who were confirmed or probable cases were part of a larger coronavirus cluster, CHT Healthcare Trust chief executive Max Robins said.”

    https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12324769

    It also turns out it then infected the health care workers which they think is due to poor PPE.

    “A nurse at Waitemata DHB – where three staff have contracted Covid-19 – says its use of PPE has been inadequate.

    The third Covid-19 case was confirmed today at Waitakere Hospital, with two other cases in the past several days.

    The source of infection has not been confirmed, though the staff cared for St Margarets rest home residents with Covid-19.

    The DHB told the Health Ministry all staff wore PPE when caring for them, and that nurses had access to full PPE and wore it at all times

    The nurse said it “beggars belief” the PPE would fail.”

    https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/national/415623/beggars-belief-that-ppe-would-fail-waitemata-dhb-nurse

  3. How to keep the corporates from influencing our democracy?
    By keeping NATCCP in opposition would be a good start. And assist in maintaining the CCP at arms length as well. Simon can do his boot licking as much as he likes in opposition

  4. Look Looky John!

    “As the country braces for a one-in-100-year recession, Cabinet has agreed to a law change that will block the public from the resource consent process in order to fast track projects that create jobs and stimulate the economy.

    Environment Minister David Parker said new legislation was expected to be passed in June to allow for faster Resource Management Act (RMA) consenting of development and infrastructure projects, in response to the damage the coronavirus pandemic was having on the economy.”

    https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/industries/121386639/coronavirus-cabinet-approves-new-legislation-to-fasttrack-resource-consents-and-boost-economy-as-it-emerges-from-lockdown

  5. How about the novel idea of; the state provides them all with a set number of hours of primetime tv and print media and radio and social media. A budget and hours of public broadcasting. Thats it. One rule for all. No need to fund raise from anyone or any body.

    • Denny P
      +100 It would be utterly rejected. Politician is now an important career for the children of the well-heeled. They have the money and connections to project their advantage, and once you are in you project and protect. You’re set up for life going round grinning, or looking serious, and you make good connections in Parliament and hear of all the money-making schemes. A small workshop in appearance and media handling helps with presentation and a good memory for the Party and class-oriented lines to speak, the right intonation, right clothes and appearance, and work to draw in a close group who will support you, turn out for meetings. Perhaps say things that will get the alphabet lobby group to clap your every utterance.

      What, cut down on money and time for electioneering. No way. And while you are putting ideas forward for improving our political scene, suggest tieing salaries to a certain proportion above the median wage across the nation, with travelling allowances etc. and technology supplied for meetings over Skype and cohort. And a maximum of three terms with no return for two decades. Good luck with all those sterling ideas.

      • And no afterlife perks, either. Everyone else lost out in the 1980s. Why not parliament people, too?
        (They annoy me intensely.)
        Or immunity from prosecution for transgressions.

        But perhaps we still yearn for lords and masters?

  6. Thinking of how we need to support our own business and think of ways  to innovate and keep it profitable and seated firmly in the wage-earning-spending-investment-taxes-well-run-business leading to more wage earning
    cycle that we need for a firm foundation for enterprise NZ and wellbeing.

    An example is Cadbury’s factory in Dunedin.    It was furrin’ but bedded into the local economy then fell under a new version of the furrin’ outfit.   It was old, needed some innovation and some new machinery probably.   This is what was reported about its closure by the new owner in February 2017.
    Mondelez International, Cadbury’s multi-billion-dollar US parent company, cited increasing costs and distance to its markets as making it untenable to continue the business – even though it is still profitable.

    That argument would have been familiar to many kiwi manufacturers; in a survey of manufacturers by the NZ Institute of Economic Research (NZIER), distance to markets was cited as the fourth biggest barrier to expansion.
    Feb.23/17 https://www.odt.co.nz/news/dunedin/bitter-aftertaste-cadburys-closing

    360 jobs were lost, perhaps 300 households lost their income – some would have had more than one family member working there.     There is no surprise in knowing we are distant to markets, we know where we are on the globe, we aren’t a flat-earth society.   Conclusion – we have to accept that and form our company structures, and our export products with that in mind.   We can’t keep selling off to foreigners who are prepared to buy and shut us down and make the product in another country, and then try to sell back to us our known brand yet not have put anything into the economy from wages as previously was the case.   (Griffins is another case.   They sold their biscuit business and presumably also sweets, in the 1960s to NABISCO USA – National Biscuit Coy.   Since then it has passed from one to another company, still making the same product in other countries such as Fiji.)  

    So what happened in Dunedin – crowd funding – new chocolate.
    Mar.5/19  https://www.tvnz.co.nz/one-news/new-zealand/new-chocolate-factory-opens-in-dunedin-one-year-after-cadbury-closes-its-doors
    The Otago Chocolate Company’s (OCHO) rapid expansion is thanks to one of the biggest crowdfunding campaigns in Kiwi history….
    Despite the rapid rise thanks to donations from 3000 members of the public, OCHO founder Liz Rowe is staying humble.
    “We’re not trying to compete at that level, (Cadbury) we are a small boutique craft maker and our focus is on premium chocolate.”

    And we have to turn towards and buy those NZ products, and let them know what they can do better, support them to be good producers and be profitable.    And it is not enough just to buy NZ, we have to support the small, micro businesses, before we look at the big ones.   Otherwise we get monopolies  with no room for individual enterprise and no firm economy as a base for the country, just a few high fliers with much under- and unemployment and failing businesses.    That is not a good economic outcome for us.   A lot of work and energy and money gets wasted that way and people trying for a good continuing business and an adequate income get wasted in all meanings of that word.

    So how is OCHO going?
    Ocho chairman Jim O’Malley said expansion and refurbishment of the new Roberts St craft chocolate factory, which opened in January this year, had come with an overall price tag of about $1.4million.
    This included refit costs which were $200,000 above budget, at $750,000, while new equipment had cost another $500,000, and $150,000 had gone into initial operational expenses.

    [MY NOTE:  HOSTILE ACTION OF PREDATORY FOREIGN COMPANY!]  Mr O’Malley said Mondelez, owners of Cadbury, had also “blacklisted” Ocho from buying any of the used equipment from its now dormant Dunedin factory.

    He said these delays and expenses had an immediate and profound impact on profitability.
    “Production was not able to support the market during the five-month refurbishment process, impacting supply,
    (My capitals:)  DURING THE IMPORTANT HOLIDAY AND CHRISTMAS TRADING PERIOD.”…

    This had also seen the departure of founder and general manager Liz Rowe, who left at the end of June.
    Ms Rowe, who remains as the largest shareholder with a 10% stake in the company, said there was no underlying issue or problem with the company but that it was simply the right time to go.   https://www.odt.co.nz/business/ocho-seriously-underperforming

    So there will be a lot of pressures and difficulties before the potential of a business can flourish, but NZs can do it and under the umbrella of a trust, with intelligent directors, we can sustain ourselves to get a secure future beyond the present shallow, posturing business successes of a cargo cult economy, skimming the cream from products and infrastructure built by earlier people who were part of the fabric of NZ, not asset strippers.
    If there was a dedicated NZ entity that bought up successful NZ brands and production funded by the NZ public that kept these businesses here carefully abnd wisely run, it would be a successful investment, suitable for the superannuation fund to invest some of their funds in as well as citizens who profess to care for the country’s wellbeing.

     But for the present local areas could set up trusts that oversee local businesses.  But it would be important for  and these to be run by business people who weren’t locals to prevent the self-centred, personal advantage of individuals and small groups becoming corrupt with power and imposing decisions that introduced nepotism or favouritism, or weren’t best practice and rorted locals who would pass themselves off as being good ‘ol local boys and girls with superior wisdom and demand patriotic support.   We must remember how devious we all can be when we get to positions of power and are not properly audited or have to answer to critical questions from the wider public and not just their peer group.

  7. “to be run by business people who weren’t locals to prevent the self-centred, personal advantage of individuals and small groups becoming corrupt with power and imposing decisions that introduced nepotism or favouritism,”
    I guess that excludes the likes of Jenny Shipley and Bill Birch, then. And the flipping Mr (no, ‘Sir’, beg pardon-fingers crossed)Key. Their track records shine behind them like slime trails.

    I liked your post. Thanks.

    • Someone liked my posts. Thanks. I was thinking particularly locally and the little coterie of self-important people that will take over and run the place according to their own ideas which were formed 30 or more years ago, and others don’t have a chance to work out anything else. So nothing changes, except downward.

  8. Breaking News Today! The Labour Government are turning ‘Red’ and not in a good way!

    “Environment Minister David Parker said new legislation was expected to be passed in June to allow for faster Resource Management Act (RMA) consenting of development and infrastructure projects, in response to the damage the coronavirus pandemic was having on the economy.
    Created in 1991, the RMA allows communities to make decisions on how their own environment is managed through regional and district resource management plans. Parker said the RMA provided for local decision-making generally by local councils with the public having a right of participation and appeal. However, under the new powers resource consent decisions for large projects would not go to council and public input would not happen. Instead, a panel of experts chaired by an Environment Court judge would determine whether a project could be given the green light, he said.

    Maori are not included in any of the decision making as a Treaty Partner!

  9. Ban political party donations. Every candidate gets, say, $50,000 for campaign costs (subject to audits). No other funding allowed. Level playing field.

  10. COVID-19 is the great revealer. It has exposed the full truth of the global class divide. Why are hundreds of millions now facing starvation while big companies are being bailed out to the tune of trillions of dollars — and the tax havens of the rich remain wholly intact?

    Just some thoughts on Mayday from Adbusters.

    https://www.adbusters.org/

  11. Dear @ JM. You ask…
    ” How can we prise corporate hands from the throat of our democracy?”
    Nope. We can’t. We’re fucked.

    This is a time for reflection while in retreat.
    I.e. get your cash out of the banksters and run like fuck.
    A person whom seemed like a very dear friend of mine said once of corporates ” Simply don’t give them your money. ”
    Of course, those who might be motivated into selectively not spending their hard earned money on the corporates are here, in a minority. Writing on dear old The Daily Blog. And we’re here because we give a fuck. We have empathy. We know what it’s like to suffer and so we feel for those who suffer now too. But I think that what’s worse is to know that, and to also know that we’re powerless against the ‘Them’s’.
    We, us, are a minority. Good people are in retreat.
    Therefore, it’s every human being for themselves.
    Of course, we’d like to believe that there’s hope in our politic, that there’s reason to be found in the corporates who now own what were once our stuff and things… but there isn’t. All is lost.
    The corporates are feasting on our misery. Their fuel’s in our tears. Their frisson’s are in the kids who go hungry and who’s mothers have to rent out parts of their bodies to narcissistic sociopaths just to survive. Their triumph is in the homeless while others have multiple property portfolios and most of those houses are empty. They’re just waiting for the real estate industry to swindle up property values so as banksters can lend the money to stiffen the cocks and sate the ego’s.
    And the corporates can do that and can continue to do that unfettered and in fact encouraged by the same politicians who’re charged with prioritising our most at risk ahead of anything and everything else.
    adern isn’t going to…? I ask myself… What IS adern going to do? Well, nothing is something I suppose. So perhaps that’s what adern’s going to do. Nothing. So that’s something at least.
    I think the most important message coming out of the virus bubble is that corporates are irrelevant in the scheme of things and yet they lay down the law when there’s no virus to shed light on their irrelevancy.
    I think I’d like to mention my new hero. Many of you well educated individuals will know this guy but he’s news to this illiterate country boy.
    Alan Watts
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Watts
    “Watts attempted to lessen the alienation that accompanies the experience of being human that he felt plagued the modern Westerner, and (like his fellow British expatriate and friend, Aldous Huxley) to lessen the ill will that was an unintentional by-product of alienation from the natural world. He felt such teaching could improve the world, at least to a degree. He also articulated the possibilities for greater incorporation of aesthetics (for example: better architecture, more art, more fine cuisine) in American life.”
    But who, amongst the corporates and we, their intellectually parasitised victims could, much less would, listen to such things?
    Not fucking many would be my guess.
    There’s been so much damage done to us by the Thems that it’d take an ice age to reset and recalibrate the us’s.
    Oh? Wait? Here comes one now. Accompanied by a deadly virus and a farcical ‘financial collapse’.
    The Guardian headlines…
    “ Warren Buffett sells all his shares in USA airlines! “
    Well, who gives a fuck? If you can go and pick a lettuce from your vegetable garden? You’re light years ahead of that shrivelled up old prick.
    Legendary Investor…What the fuck does that actually mean? He’s little more than a mafioso crook with an ability to normalise his abnormalities easily because we’re suckers.
    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/may/03/warren-buffett-dumps-us-airline-stocks-saying-world-has-changed-after-covid-19
    “ Saying-world-has-changed…”
    Bull shit. He’s using the spectre of a virus to slip out from under any responsibility for an up and coming financial Armageddon. Buffet and his ilk are NOT the solution… they’re the problem. And they make a great deal of money out of you and me by being problematical.

  12. Revealed: The Auckland Town Hall Rich List
    The Auckland Ratepayers’ Alliance is pleased to present the inaugural Auckland Town Hall Rich List, revealing the names and salaries of the highest-paid staff at Auckland Council and its subsidiaries.

    Council and Council subsidiaries salaries in Auckland.

    CEO Watercare $775,000
    CEO Auckland Council $698,000
    CFO Auckland Council $600,000
    CEO Auckland Transport $540,000
    Acting CEO Panuku Development $505,000

    Key findings:
    Eighty-six staff are paid more than $250,000.
    Fourty-eight staff are paid more than Mayor Phil Goff ($296,000) and seven are paid more than the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern ($471,000).
    Seventy-one percent of identified rich listers are men. Of the six staff paid more than $500,000, all are men.
    Twenty-four of the rich listers are employees of Auckland Transport, 11 are from Watercare, six are from Regional Facilities Auckland, five are from ATEED, and five are from Panuku Development.

    https://www.ratepayers.nz/rich_list?fbclid=IwAR3sVyUcyMD7YiOrnT2trP3UIrb_t5TgAZS2Lz8TSbq0qTXpfnNNjt8ONMw

    • I don’t understand how these salaries are justified and i presume that does not include performance bonuses.

      Everytime these exorbitant amounts are questioned in any role its always the same old argument about needing too pay for the best and the market determines the going rate.

      It seems even harder too accept when its financed by our rates and is higher than the PMs salary.

      I would love too work for just one week earning 698,000 ( around 13,000 less tax ) it would take me 6 months too earn that.

      Looks like extortion from where i am sitting.

  13. Coronavirus: Wealthy liquor store barons claim $550k Covid-19 wage subsidy

    “Two liquor store barons with multimillion-dollar property portfolios and a record of treating staff poorly have received more than $550,000 from the Government’s coronavirus wage subsidy scheme.

    A tax commentator has questioned the morality of wealthy business owners seeking taxpayer handouts.

    Nekita Enterprises, which is controlled by Harjit and Sheen Singh and owns more than a dozen bottle stores across Canterbury, has received $302,000 to subsidise the wages of 47 staff, according to the Ministry of Social Development’s (MSD) website.

    Super Liquor Holdings terminated its contracts with Nekita Enterprises in February after the Labour Inspectorate found the company had paid several staff less than the minimum wage and kept inaccurate records. Nekita Enterprises stores now trade under the name Canterbury Liquor.

    Stuff previously revealed the Singhs, who have an extensive property portfolio worth more than $6 million, designed a palatial multimillion-dollar mansion while the company was being investigated by the Labour Inspectorate.

    In March, Harjit Singh set up two new companies, Canterbury Liquor Baron and Liquor Tycoon, names which appear to be in response to recent headlines about Nekita Enterprises.

    Meanwhile, Karman Enterprises and Big Daddys, which are controlled by Hardeep Singh and own 10 liquor stores in Canterbury, have received $265,000 to subsidise the wages of 39 staff.”

    https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/121359471/coronavirus-wealthy-liqour-store-barons-claim-550k-covid19-wage-subsidy

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