Political Roundup: Public submissions on political donation reform released

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Is it ironic that the Government is reforming rules around secret political donations in a very secretive way? There has been overwhelming public demand for more openness about how politicians raise their money, but the Government and officials have been less than transparent and very restrictive over the whole submission process.

The public had a very limited opportunity to give feedback on the Government’s first proposals for political donation reform. The Ministry of Justice called for submissions over the Christmas New Year period, allowing an extremely short timeframe, with submissions closing on January 25. Critics might be forgiven for being cynical about how much public input the Government really wanted.

Further alarm bells have been ringing for those concerned about open government, due to the fact that the Ministry of Justice has been attempting to prevent the public submissions from being released to the public. The Ministry wanted to keep these for Cabinet ministers eyes only.

Battles to obtain public information

As an academic researcher of political finance I have been battling with the Ministry over many months to be provided with copies of the submissions. I first requested the files in early April, but have had various fobbing off communications from the Ministry and attempts to decline my Official Information Act request. One request was ignored because I had failed to cite the “Official Information Act” in my communications (but, no this isn’t a good enough reason).

After attempts to decline my request, and a complaint to the Ombudsman, I finally received the information this month.

Unfortunately some key submissions have been withheld, specifically submissions from three political parties. The Ministry of Justice’s general manager of civil and constitutional policy, Kathy Brightwell, informed me that “The political parties which the ministry received submissions from, provided these on a confidential basis. These parties may not have provided submissions if they knew they were going to be identified, so it would be within the public interest to withhold their submissions, as release of this would likely prejudice the supply of similar information”.

Journalist Andrea Vance has also been declined the public submissions, and yesterday she reported that “The Ministry of Justice struck a deal with political parties to keep secret their submissions on donation law reform.” She also reports the reaction of National’s Justice spokesperson Paul Goldsmith, who said it was “deeply shocking and ironic” that transparency reforms were being blighted by officials keeping submissions secret.

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It is unclear which three political parties have asked the Ministry of Justice to keep their submissions secret. National has already publicly released their submission. And according to Andrea Vance, the Greens and Act are happy to publicly release their submissions. She also says that Labour didn’t provide a formal written submission – instead the party’s general secretary gave an oral representation to the Ministry, and it appears the records of that meeting are being withheld.

Until political parties’ consultations and submissions are released, it will continue to raise questions about the Government’s commitment to improve political transparency.

What the public submissions say

The Ministry of Justice received 276 submissions from the public about the Government’s proposed changes to political donation rules. It’s very clear that most submitters felt reform is urgently needed and the proposed reforms do not go far enough.

Below are some of the key themes of the submissions:

1) Almost unanimous support for lowering the threshold for disclosure. Currently, only donations over $15,000 have to be publicly declared. While there is strong support for the proposal to lower this to $1500, many advocate for an even lower threshold, with a significant number arguing for the limit to be $100 or $200.

2) The majority of submissions support an absolute cap on how much an individual can donate to a political party each year. Many suggest that the $1500 disclosure limit proposed by the Government should actually be the cap. Greenpeace recommended a $10,000 per year cap (The Green Party has introduced legislation to cap donations at $30,000).

3) Many submitters explicitly mentioned concern over corporate donations. A significant number advocated that only individuals should be able to donate – i.e. businesses, trusts, unions shouldn’t be allowed to donate to political parties.

4) There was strong support for increasing frequency of reporting. The submissions agree that the current annual reporting of donations is insufficient, with quarterly or monthly reports recommended, especially during election years and campaign periods.

5) Opposition to the Government’s proposal to remove the ten day disclosure requirement for donations greater than $30,000 was almost unanimous, with most viewing that such a significant sum should be required to be immediately disclosed, even if frequency for smaller donations is increased.

6) There was very strong support for more detailed public disclosures of non-cash donations. A number mentioned the use of fundraising auctions, particularly by the Labour Party, as needing much tighter scrutiny and regulation.

7) Most submissions called for the public disclosure of many more donations, even those under $1500 (which the Government is proposing should be exempt from disclosure). There is strong support for the publishing of the volume and total of donations that political parties receive, regardless of the threshold level.

8) There is very clear support for increased transparency and audits of party finances.

9) Submitters support requiring political candidates to disclose loans, with some calling for a complete ban on loans, a practice at the centre of the current trial related to the NZ First Foundation.

10) In terms of anonymous donations, most submitters thought that there should be either a complete ban or they should be much more restricted – typically a $100-$200 limit per year.  There was some concern about the administrative burden of collecting information for very small donations, but a number made the point that modern technology and finance tools have made tracking payments and donors much easier, and that many countries successfully operate much more detailed and frequent disclosure regimes.

There was some very limited opposition for a complete ban on anonymous donations, notably from the Law Society who argued that some anonymity for donations under $1500 is justified. However, the Chartered Accountants association supported a ban, noting how problematic anonymous funding can be, saying that “while political parties are not subject to the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism Act 2009, there is a reasonable public expectation that political parties have an important role in deterring potential money laundering activities.”

11) A significant number of submissions recognised that greater restrictions and regulation of political donations would lead to a severe reduction in income for political parties, and that this might therefore increase the need for greater state funding of parties.

In general, the submissions are a mixed bag, with varying quality of analysis. That is the nature of public submissions. It can’t be assumed that the submitters are in any way an accurate representation of the public. Nonetheless, it was apparent that there were very few “cut and paste” submissions, which often occurs when some organisations ask their supporters to make submissions repeating a party line. Given that, the near unanimity of views that the proposals needed to go further was striking.

On the other hand, unfortunately, there were also very few submissions from civil society organisations – Chartered Accountants Australia & New Zealand, the National Māori Authority, Greenpeace, Transparency International New Zealand, the Gama Foundation and the New Zealand Values Alliance. This suggests a need for the Government to find ways to expand their public consultation on this crucial area of democracy.

If you want to see the file of public submissions, this is now available on my Democracy Project website – see: Ministry of Justice OIA release of information on political donations.

Further reading on political donations

Andrea Vance (Stuff): Political party views on donations shake-up kept secret in deal with Ministry of Justice
No Right Turn: A conspiracy against the public
Sam Hurley (Herald): NZ First Foundation case: High Court permanently suppresses identities of accused pair
RNZ: NZ First Foundation case: Donation handlers win permanent name suppression

Other items of interest and importance today

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Thomas Coughlan (Herald): Inflation helps firms posting super profits in 2022, but MPs cool on windfall tax
Eric Crampton (Newsroom): Extra half billion dollars in fuel cuts could have gone to critical health shortages
Liam Dann (Herald): Is a housing crash the secret weapon in war on inflation?(paywalled)
Susan St John (Daily Blog): Here is what must happen in child poverty before the end of this year
Steven Cowan: The Winter of discontent
Brent Edwards (NBR): Inflation will have an impact on next year’s election (paywalled)
John McDermott (NBR): The uneven effect when prices rise (paywalled)
David Hargreaves (Interest): It’s crunch time in the inflation battle
Jenée Tibshraeny (Herald): Will higher-than-expected inflation send mortgage rates further north? (paywalled)
Tim Dower (Newstalk): Having our youth living in poverty makes no sense at all
Daniel Smith (Stuff): Three industries hit hardest by inflation
Rodney Dickens (Interest): Calls for more OCR hikes are seriously misplaced
Damien Venuto (Herald): How much longer will the inflation pain last?
Kurt Bayer (Herald): Construction site raids: Builders resort to sleeping on-site to deter brazen thieves (paywalled)
Pattrick Smellie (BusinessDesk): Why I’m tired of the RBNZ blame game (paywalled)
Clint Smith (Stuff): Who should bear the cost of tackling inflation?
Brianna Mcilraith (Stuff): Petrol prices drop across NZ as Government questions fuel companies
RNZ: Weekly food spend up by 5 percent on last year, survey finds
Seni Iasona (Newshub): Employee Sentiment Index finds 41 percent of Kiwi workers are struggling to meet basic living costs

THREE WATERS AND CO-GOVERNANCE
Richard Harman: Why the Government needs Three Waters (paywalled)
Chris Trotter (BFD): We are all Māori – with a small ‘M’
Chris Trotter (Daily Blog): The Danish solution: How repudiating co-governance could be the saving of Labour
Tim Dower (Newstalk): Our water needs attention, but Three Waters is not the way to do it
Richard Prebble (Herald): Three Waters is an attack on democracy (paywalled)
Irra Lee (1News): Three Waters debates need to be based on fact – Ardern
Claire Trevett (Herald): Three Waters: Government to give councils $44m to help set up Three Waters reforms
Bill Cashmore (Herald): Auckland Council’s position on the Three Waters reform has been consistent since announced (paywalled)
Stephen Ward (Stuff): Hamilton councillors unite to say ‘no’ to Three Waters bill – but political ripples remain
RNZ: Lower South Island mayors stake jobs on three waters approach
Imogen Wells (Newshub): Three Waters dominates at Local Government NZ conference, but Jacinda Ardern dogged by mask controversy
Georgina Campbell (Herald): Wellington fluoride failure a scandal in a league of its own(paywalled)

LOCAL GOVERNMENT AND ELECTIONS
David Farrar: LGNZ bans dissenting voices from its annual conference
Janine Rankin and Conor Knell (Stuff): ‘It’s tough time to be a public official’ – Prime Minister at LGNZ conference
Giles Dexter (RNZ): ‘The toughest term’: Mayors grapple with pace and scale of reforms
Roman Travers (Newstalk): How do we encourage people to vote in local body elections?
Te Aniwa Hurihanganui (1News): All newly elected Māori councillors to get mentor
Ashleigh McCaull (RNZ): Māori councillors say they face racism in role: ‘Well your people should be alright, they’ve raised the benefit’
RNZ: Councillors experiencing racism, discrimination on the job – survey
Mike Hosking (Herald): Christchurch the Super City – think big, dream big and build it big(paywalled)
Anna Fifield (Stuff): LGWM requires carrots and sticks
Jonathan Milne (Newsroom): Wanted for the All Blacks, but not as NZ citizen – why Inoke Afeaki is running for election
David Williams (Newsroom): Mayoral candidate: I should have disclosed conflict
Georgina Campbell (Herald): Wellington’s mayor playing high-stakes election game(paywalled)
Georgina Campbell (Herald): Wellington ‘out of step’ with only one special voting booth
Matthew Scott (Newsroom): Candidates clash as Auckland mayoral race heats up

NATIONAL PARTY
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Ben Thomas (Stuff): Plumbing the depths: the decline and fall of an Opposition
Thomas Coughlan (Herald): Poll: National support with women increases, overtaking Labour, despite abortion controversy
Andrea Vance (The Spinoff): ‘They clashed like f*ckery’: The final straw for Todd Muller
Andrea Vance (Stuff): The inside story of Todd Muller’s tipping point, as told in the book Blue Blood
Ireland Hendry-Tennent (Newshub): Nicola Willis says changing abortion laws would be ‘dealbreaker’, trusts Christopher Luxon’s assurances National won’t
RNZ: National Party conference to go ahead in person despite rising Covid cases

PARLIAMENT, GOVERNMENT AND ELECTIONS
Tova O’Brien (Today FM): It seems the Government is as all over the shop as the rest of us
Peter Dunne: Time for MPs to think for themselves
1News: Shaw: Leadership questions not behind moving Greens AGM online
Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): Right or Left? Two scenarios for political violence in NZ 2023 election
Sam Olley (RNZ): Environmentalists, mana whenua criticise PM’s ‘appalling’ gift to US president
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Thomas Manch (Stuff): Youth MPs call on Parliament to lower the voting age
Herald: Online survey to see if you want to be on the Māori Electoral Roll or the General Roll
Deena Coster (Stuff): Democracy NZ not just a ‘one-issue party’ – leader

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Jenée Tibshraeny (Herald): Foreign investors will need to work harder to get NZ residency
Matthew Scott (Newsroom): Partner work visas on the chopping block
Amelia Wade (Newshub): Concern Government’s investor visa change could lead New Zealand to losing billions

HEALTH
Ian Powell: What happens when a health minister loses workforce trust and confidence
Damien Venuto (Herald): What could alleviate massive strain on the health sector?
Janine Rankin (Stuff): Covid-19 exposes deep trouble in primary healthcare
Zarina Hewlett (Today FM): NZNO not “impressed” Andrew Little dismissed their credibility

HOUSING
Andrea Vance (Stuff): ‘Get rich quick scheme’ – $16m paid to an Auckland motel for emergency accommodation
RNZ: New home building costs rising at record 7.7% annual rate
1News: KiwiBuild a ‘totally failed policy’ – Nicola Willis
Katie Bradford (1News): Govt relaxes restrictions around troubled KiwiBuild policy
Herald: Kiwibuild: Income and price caps adjusted for Government housing scheme
Louise Ternouth (RNZ): Renters stuck in cold, damp homes as compliance with law lacking – advocates

COVID
Jamie Ensor (Newshub): Jacinda Ardern snapped maskless may ‘indicate that’s okay behaviour’, photo-ops should model good mask-use, experts say
Amelia Wade (Newshub): Michael Baker ‘quite shocked’ at photo of Jacinda Ardern maskless in crowd
Claire Trevett (Herald): The PM and the maskless photo – fair or foul, and have we got too precious? (paywalled)
Ireland Hendry-Tennent (Newshub): National Deputy leader Nicola Willis defends PM Jacinda Ardern after maskless photo causes furore
1News: ‘Give her a break’: Willis defends PM’s maskless group photo
Zizi Sparks (Herald): Covid-19 mask wearing shouldn’t fall by the wayside (paywalled)
Lloyd Burr (Today FM): Can we ease up on the mask shaming, please?
Herald: Editorial: Sick days hit the workforce as second wave rises (paywalled)
Hannah Martin (Stuff): What we know about the ‘Centaurus’ BA.2.75 variant in New Zealand

EDUCATION
John Gerritsen (RNZ): Think-tank reveals high failure rate in small trial-run of new literacy, numeracy tests
Gabrielle McCulloch (Stuff): Number of students missing from school has almost doubled in past nine months
Sarah Robson (RNZ): The boom and bust of our polytechs

1 COMMENT

  1. easy peasy…all donations illegal, all lobbying illegal, all parties over the threshold receive a sum from the state come election time to do the best they can…
    equals end of political corruption

    because the pollies love them brown envelopes it’s not gonna happen but hey dreams are free.

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