Wednesday, July 20, 2022

A conspiracy against the public

Earlier this year the government held a public consultation on proposed changes to the election donations regime. Naturally, political parties - who have a strong interest in the rules around donations and what they have to disclose - submitted to it. But the Ministry of Justice cooked up a crooked deal to keep those submissions secret:

The Ministry of Justice struck a deal with political parties to keep secret their submissions on donation law reform.


As part of the reform, political parties – and the public – were asked for their feedback on a range of policy options.

The ministry says it will release submissions from ordinary people. But it will not disclose those from three political parties.

“The political parties which the ministry received submissions from, provided these on a confidential basis,” Kathy Brightwell, general manager of civil and constitutional policy said in response to an Official Information Act request from Stuff.

“These parties may not have provided submissions if they knew they were going to be identified, so it would be within the public interest to withhold their submissions, as release of this would likely prejudice the supply of similar information, and it is in the public interest that the ministry can continue to consult with political parties in the future.”

Weirdly the Ministry can't even keep its story straight on how many parties it granted confidentiality to - they told me it was only one. But either way its bullshit. Firstly, because the idea that political parties would not submit on a consultation about the rules they operate under is simply absurd and does not even pass the laugh test. Secondly because insofar as there is any obligation of confidence, it can apply only to truly confidential information, such as membership and financial numbers - not to the views of the parties and the arguments they are using to try and influence policy. Thirdly, because of the public interest: this is an issue which is the subject of widespread public disquiet. Bluntly, the parties are perceived as writing the rules to suit themselves, in flagrant disregard of public demands for greater transparency (which are themselves driven by real questions about who is buying our politicians). This refusal is simply going to strengthen that disquiet and that perception, to the detriment of our democracy.

Of course, while the Ministry says "parties", the party in question is Labour. We know this because National has already publicly released its submission, while Labour refused to do so. Why not? The obvious reason is that they believe that the public will not like what they are saying, and will judge them for it at the ballot box. But we should judge them on their refusal as well. If a party isn't willing to be open about its views on electoral donations, the public should judge them as corrupt-by-default. There are clean parties out there - vote for one of them instead.