Tuesday, December 07, 2021

Time to ban anonymous donations

On Friday, the government began "consulting" on changes to electoral finance law, including a ban on anonymous donations. Given the subject, that's the sort of consultation you'd expect to be well-publicised to maximise public input, but apparently they forgot to do that bit, and we didn't learn about it until a sharp-eyed journalist bought it up at the PostCab press conference yesterday. Which I guess makes it one of those "consultations" where the government doesn't really want to hear from the plebs anyway.

Snark about transparency aside, the merits of the proposal actually look pretty good. The core idea is to increase transparency by aligning the disclosure threshold for party donations with that of candidate donations at $1500, while increasing reporting frequency to quarterly or six monthly (obviously, quarterly is better, and why piss about with half-measures?) There's also a move to improve disclosure around "in-kind" donations, such as those paintings Labour likes to auction, so that we get to know who is actually paying inflated prices for them. Another suggestion is to ban anonymous donations, presumably using the same mechanism as used for overseas donations. As Andrew Geddis points out, there's not really a lot of problems with someone giving $100 or $150 to a party without anyone knowing, but that's really an argument about where the threshhold should be; the principle that all non-minimal donations should be recorded is a good one, and the question is whether its rich people or real people who get to decide what "minimal" is (rich people have weird ideas about this, and seem to think that amounts that are more than what average people earn in a day or a week aren't important, which just shows how divorced from reality they are).

The one sticking point is the proposal to remove immediate reporting of large donations. The justification for this is that there will be more frequent reporting anyway, but seeing quickly who is buying our politicians has significant benefits, and there's a hell of a lot of difference between seeing in ten days (as we do at present) and seeing in three or six months. This is something where we resist change, and insist on additional transparency where there is a higher risk of corruption and undue influence.

Details on the consultation are here. There's also a briefing note with details of the proposed changes. Submissions are due by 25 January 2022, so there's no real hurry. Just remember not to forget to do it over the holidays.