Friday, May 04, 2007

Election funding: returns

The Electoral Commission has published last year's annual returns of political party donations. This not being an election year, donations were down, but the picture is still disturbing. Firstly, National is still making extensive use of anonymous trusts to launder donations and undermine the intent of the law - $146,000 of $170,000 was laundered in this way. Secondly, the returns tell us absolutely nothing about who is seeking to buy influence with donations of less than $10,000. As the Coalition for Open Government argues, this simply isn't good enough, and shows the need for reform. But perhaps the most disturbing aspect is that a large number of parties - including ACT, the Maori Party, and the Alliance - have flouted the law by not sending in a return. That return may be nil, but by law they are still required to send it. This is a perennial problem, and while the law allows for a penalty of $20,000 for party secretaries who fail to comply, clearly it is not sufficient to force the required level of openness. Though it might help if the Electoral Commission actually bothered to press charges rather than just sitting around and letting parties piss on the disclosure regime.


To be fair to National, next year's returns will provide a better test. That will give them an opportunity to react and change, if they have the will to do so. Also, it will be fascinating to find out how Labour paid for the big whip around.

(And BTW, as I've said elsewhere, good on them. Paying the public price for the pledge card/overspending debacle strengthens our democracy.)

Posted by Anonymous : 5/04/2007 08:25:00 PM

And one revelation I'm surprised didn't attract more comment - one of Labour's 'big ticket' donors was a gentleman by the name of Sir Geoffrey Palmer, who happens to be a named partner in Chen & Palmer.

Now, you may say what the hell is wrong with that? Nothing, to the extent that lawyers have as much right as anyone else to support political parties. I do think, however, it's worth asking where the ethical line is when Sir Geoffrey and his firm (to quote their own website): also provide policy, legislation and strategic advice that is informed by a detailed knowledge and understanding of Government and Government processes.

Or, when you cut the crap, Chen & Palmer are lobbyists as well as providing a good chunk of their legal services to the supposedly apolitical public sector.

Posted by Craig Ranapia : 5/05/2007 04:20:00 PM

I/S, Act's return was a day or so late (the deadline is 30 April).sh.g

Posted by Gooner : 5/05/2007 11:19:00 PM


Re Palmer-Chen - no shit, sherlock.

They are a US-style professional lobbying organisation. They said that was what they were going to be when they set up. The say that's what they are. They provide policy, legislation and strategic advice informed by (etc) to people who want to influence the govt.

If the public sector is engaging this self-professed professional lobbying organisation that's scandalous behaviour on their part: but not Palmer-Chen's fault. There's a reason lawyers refer to their profession as "the second oldest".

Of course, this country needed American-style professional lobbyists the way we need American-style gun laws or American-style litigiousness - or antrhax.

Posted by Mr Wiggles : 5/05/2007 11:32:00 PM

Gooner: that's good to hear. But the list was rather longer than that, and it happens every single year. It would be nice if the Electoral Commission was able to enforce the law for once - for one, it might deter the parties from breaking it in other areas.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 5/06/2007 12:11:00 AM


You have a point, but I don't think Chen & Palmer are the first schmooze for hire shop in town, and they won't be the last. My point is that I think there needs to be much clearer firewalls between them, the civil service, and their principals cutting five-figure checks to any political party. I wouldn't go as far as to suggest Sir Geoffrey Palmer is an embryonic Jack Abramoff, but I'd rather not see any Government of any stripe end up with that particular slime on its face.

I also think Parliament and the legal profession need to be publicly placing some clear, and enforced, boundaries on lawyer-lobbyists. Even though there are some very prominent firms -- and politicians -- who might not find it in their best interest to do so. (Sir Geoffrey himself might find his stock as a rentaquote depressed if he was identified as a 'registered lobbyist' instead of 'prominent legal scholar and former Prime Minister'.)

Posted by Craig Ranapia : 5/06/2007 09:48:00 AM

There does seem to be something quite unusual about the current President of the Law Commission being one of the Labour Party's largest personal donors.

Posted by Insolent Prick : 5/06/2007 03:04:00 PM

Unusual? Because of the transparency? Would you perhaps be more comfortable if Palmer had made his donation to a Trust, which then disbursed the money to Labour ?

Posted by Anonymous : 5/07/2007 08:49:00 AM

enzer wrote:
Would you perhaps be more comfortable if Palmer had made his donation to a Trust, which then disbursed the money to Labour?

Let's remove the partisan angle for a moment, and say I'd be a damn sight more comfortable if no lobbyist was cutting five figure cheques to any political party. That's an aspect of 'K Street' culture I don't really want to see take hold on Molesworth Street -- the perception, let alone the reality, that once you get your foot in the door the chequebook (and a lot of Enron accounting) is mightier than your argument.

Posted by Craig Ranapia : 5/07/2007 10:02:00 AM