Thursday, September 27, 2007

Election funding: not just about Parliament

The debate around election funding and transparency has focused on parliamentary elections. But Parliament isn't the only body we elect people to. At the moment, local body election campaigns are being waged around the country - and some are raising the same old issues of anonymous donations and transparency:

Significant donors to Bob Parker's mayoral campaign have given anonymously and will never be publicly revealed, his campaign manager says...

Mike Stockwell said "two or three" people had donated more than $1000 each. While he knows the identity of the donors, he keeps the information from Parker.

"I have to approach people in my fundraising activities and they say they would like to donate anonymously," Stockwell said. "They are not anonymous to me. They donate through a trust fund or a third-party agent. I do not know why people want to remain anonymous. They do not tell me," he said.

This is perfectly legal - the Local Electoral Act 2001 defines an anonymous donation as one where the identity of the donor is kept hidden from the candidate - but not exactly desirable. To point out the obvious, nothing in the present law prevents Parker from being told the identities of his "anonymous" donors after he has made his disclosure, and there is no requirement to file a correction if this occurs. And given the obvious scope for corruption in local body politics - the right roading or zoning decision or urban plan can massively boost someone's property portfolio (a feature which explains the high representation of developers on councils) - I think we have just as much reason to demand transparency as we do in Parliamentary elections.

Unfortunately, local bodies are left completely out of the present bill. Which sugests we also need a Local Electoral (Transparency) Amendment Bill to plug the gaps.