Every time we talk about ending the practice of large anonymous donations to political parties, some right-wing shill pops up and says that its all OK because the politicians don't know who the donors are, and therefore they can't be influenced by them.
It's a lie.
According to The Press, The Hollow Men alleges that National failed to maintain a proper separation between donors and politicians, and allowed big donors to remain anonymous despite knowing their identities:
Hager names top New Zealand businessmen and women as the principal donors to National's 2005 election campaign, including Alan Gibbs, Barry Coleman, Craig Heatley, David Richwhite, Diane Foreman, Doug Myers, Michael Friedlander, Peter Shirtcliffe, Rod Deane, Colin Giltrap, and Michael Horton.
According to the book, donations were made anonymously through the Waitemata Trust, one of a series of secret trusts that gave substantial sums to National at the last election.
Hager's book alleges that Brash and his key advisors were in regular contact with the donors and regularly sought their advice on policy and strategy as well as soliciting funding from them.
There's a name for this: it's called a corrupt electoral practice. Section 214G of the Electoral Act 1993 requires party secretaries to file an annual return of donations, including the name and address of each person donating over $10,000 a year, or just the amount if the donation is anonymous. In order to be considered "anonymous" for the purposes of the Act, both candidates and party administrators must be unaware of the donor's identity (s3(1)). Knowingly making a false return is a corrupt electoral practice and carries a penalty of one year's imprisonment and a $20,000 fine. And from the above, it seems that people in National have been knowingly making false statements, falsely claiming their donors are anonymous while knowing full well who they are and what they want, and using the trusts essentially to launder donations to hide this fact from the public.
Unfortunately, it is now too late to prosecute. Declarations of donations were due by April 30th, and there is a six month time limit for prosecution. So, as in the case of their colluding to violate their spending cap, National gets to piss on the Electoral Act (and the voters) and escape legal punishment.
It's time we put a stop to this sort of political corruption - and the first step should be to outlaw large anonymous donations. Sunlight is the best disinfectant - and if the Gibbs', Shirtcliffes, Richwhites and Deanes of this world are unwilling to donate publicly, it strongly suggests that undue influence is what they were seeking all along.
Correction: As pointed out in the comments, National's donations are all attributed to specifc sources, so this is not a corrupt practice in terms of the Electoral Act. It does however make an absolute mockery of the right's constant claims that anonymous donations are OK because no-one knows who the donors are. National knows who its donors are, it just prefers not to name them. And the reason it does this is to prevent the public from seeing the obvious connections between donors and policy positions - i.e. as a mask for political corruption.
This needs to be fixed. In the UK, it is a crime to knowingly obfuscate the true source of a political donation. This effectively outlaws National-style money laundering, and it is something we should do here.