News from The Hollow Men continues to trickle out, with the Dominion-Post have a good series on some of the key allegations yesterday, and the Herald publishing a short summary today (Public Address also has a guest column, from Danyl Mclauchlan, who occasionally comments here, assessing the book). Meanwhile, I'd like to focus on one of the more interesting aspects: the role of money in politics.
Chapters 14 and 15 take a long hard look at the way National's 2005 election campaign was funded, uncovering the donors behind National's money laundering trusts, and demonstrating that both Don Brash and party president Judy Kirk lied to the public repeatedly with their claims that they "have no idea where the money comes from". Some parts of this, notably National's skirting of election funding laws and the offer of the Talley brothers to provide $1 million through an anonymous front company to support Brash's election - arrangements that "stink", according to electoral law expert Andrew Geddis - have already received solid coverage. But one aspect has been all but ignored by the media: the practice of people and companies "investing" in a political party so as to profit directly from its policies.
For example, Hager notes that pharmaceutical company Pfizer sponsored a table at a fundraising dinner held by National in June 2005 - in the process giving about $5000 to the party. While this is below the $10,000 declaration limit, and so did not need to be declared to the public, Pfizer was very visible and made damn sure that the senior National Party people at the dinner - including Don Brash, John Key, and Judy Kirk - knew exactly who they were and where the money was coming from. Coincidentally, National had promised a bottom-up review of Pharmac - from which Pfizer stood to profit significantly if it weakened or ended Pharmac's single-buyer power (used to squeeze better deals out of the pharmaceutical industry for the benefit of sick New Zealanders). Equally coincidentally, it has also subsequently opposed measures to limit direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertising. Another table was sponsored by Diane Foreman, on behalf of the Private Hospitals Association, an organisation with the goal of "grow[ing] the private [health] sector to relieve the public sector" - in other words, shuffling patients into private hospitals rather than public ones. Coincidentally again, this is National Party policy, and equally coincidentally, Foreman and her associates would make hundreds of millions of dollars from such a shift.
The most egregious example however is that of the Insurance Council, who reportedly promised National a million dollars because it would privatise ACC - resulting again in hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue to its members. They then colluded with the party to ensure that the "details" (such as the core idea) of the policy were kept from the public - a textbook example of Brash's "moral obligation to lie" in action. When the policy was leaked, they then worked hand-in-glove with National on the media response.
All of this was of course kept secret from the New Zealand public - and you can see why. It looks pretty suspicious, doesn't it? In fact, if it happened in a poor third-world country, we wouldn't hesitate to call it by its true name: corruption. One hand is clearly washing the other.
As Hager notes,
When National MPs oppose measures to control smoking or gambling, or to allow greater subsidies for or advertising of pharmaceuticals, the public has every right to know whether those interests have been giving the party money.
Unfortunately, thanks to National's laundering of its donations, the public doesn't know, and so cannot judge whether such arrangements are acceptable. Which is precisely the point - National knows that what it is doing is dodgy, and so they hide it.
This is why we need electoral transparency and an end to money laundering and anonymous donations: so the voters can decide for themselves, and hold parties to account at the ballot box. And that fear of accountability is precisely why National opposes such moves.