Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Who is buying our politicians?

On Thursday the Electoral Commission released details of electorate candidates' donations and expenses. On Saturday morning I spent some time going through them. Highlights include:

  • Pita Sharples brought in the big bucks from the construction industry, collecting $20,000 from Fletcher's Construction and $10,000 from MainZeal director Richard Yan. He also scored $25,000 from MainFreight chairman Bruce Plested.
  • Labour's Andrew Little was partly funded by two Australian unions (to a total of $2,975). He also received a $5,000 donation from Todd Corporation, the movers and shakers in the electorate he was contesting.
  • Tech entrepreneur Selwyn Pellett contributed openly to Labour MPs David Cunliffe ($2,000), David Parker ($1,999), then gave them another $2,000 each through his company Storm Distributors as well. He also donated $4007.75 to the unsuccessful campaign of Stuart Nash.
  • Clayton Cosgrove was given $17,500 by Independent Fisheries. Shane Jones was given $10,000 from Sealord.
  • Slave-fishers United Fisheries also got in on the act, donating $3,000 to Labour's Megan Woods and $2,800 to National's Nicky Wagner. That's dirty money, and they should return it.
  • Nick Smith's campaign was wholly funded by Nelson Pine Industries Limited, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Sumitomo Forestry Limited. There's an obvious payoff there as he was climate change Minister.
  • The Road Transport Trust went on an influence-buying spree, donating $5,000 each to Ruth Dyson, Bill English, Judith Collins, Joanne Goodhew, Todd McClay, and Phil Heatley. They also reportedly offered money to Clare Curran, but she turned them down.
  • Talleys - who are in the news ATM over their poor employment practices - also went on a buying spree, contributing $5,000 each to Eric Roy, Colin King, Chris Tremain, Joanne Goodhew, Todd McClay, Lindsay Tisch, Chris Auchinvole, and Chester Borrows. That's a lot of National backbenchers in their pocket.
  • Only one Green candidate, Jan Logie, declared any donations (and it was beneath the threshold) - presumably because they were running a campaign focused on the party vote.
Of course, this isn't the whole story; candidate donations of less than $1,500 are now invisible to us. But its a troubling picture nonetheless. Companies don't give out money out of the goodness of their hearts - they expect a return. Its pretty obvious what Talley's wants: a bunch of loyal backbenchers to advocate against any improvement in worker's rights. Likewise the Road Transport Trust: advocates for more roads. But what does the building industry want from Pita Sharples, and a pack of slave fishers from Megan Woods and Nicky Wagner?

Party donation returns are due at the end of this month. Unfortunately, the politicians raised the disclosure threshold to $15,000 - because obviously anything less than that is just pocket change - and so we will have far less information about who is trying to buy influence from them next time round.