Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Trust issues

While the Electoral Finance Act's passage into law has solved the problem of big money in Parliamentary elections, it seems that they're not the only elections we need to be concerned about. Local body election returns have just been released, and it turns out that newly-elected Palmerston North mayor Jono Naylor's campaign was almost entirely bankrolled by laundered donations, with a single anonymous trust contributing more money to his campaign than was spent by all other candidates combined. While Naylor claims not to know who his ultimate donors are, he knows the identity of their representative; however he is refusing to divulge it, and there is no guarantee that he is not lying, or legal requirement now for him to come clean if his donors subsequently reveal themselves.

Given the obvious potential for corruption in local body politics - a single planning o roading decision can make a fortune for a developer with property in the right area - there's an obvious need for transparency. Unfortunately, the law does not guarantee it. While the Local Electoral Act requires candidates to file returns and disclose the identity of those who donate over $1,000, it still allows anonymous and laundered donations. This simply isn't good enough. If we want to have clean local government, we must have full transparency. There's a perfectly good transparency regime in the Electoral Finance Act which addresses these problems, and it must be applied to local body elections as well.