Sunday, July 13, 2008

Election funding: perfidy and hypocrisy

On 11 December 2007, during the committee stages of the (then) Electoral Finance Bill, NZ First leader Winston Peters reminded the opposition of the meaning of "perfidy":

I will tell the good doctor [Paul Hutchison] what perfidy is: it is deceit—saying one thing whilst acting the very reverse in terms of one’s behaviour. That is what perfidy is.
The term could now be applied perfectly to Peters himself. Having supported a bill which imposed much-needed transparency on election finance, forcing political parties to identify their donors and outlawing the money laundering used in the past to conceal their identities, it turns out that Peters has not been practicing what he preaches. Instead, he's been receiving donations from expat billionaire Owen Glenn, disguising their origin from the Electoral Commission so that they do not show up in annual returns, and lying about it to the public. Peters would no doubt claim that it was all legal, just as National's 2002 and 2005 money laundering schemes were legal, but that's not the point. It was wrong, and coming from a party which had spoken so strongly in favour of transparency, grossly hypocritical, even perfidious. This is exactly the sort of abuse the Electoral Finance Act was supposed to put an end to. Is it really too much to expect our politicians to practice what they preach?

The other point is that it may not have been legal. Even under the Electoral Act 1993 it was an offence to lie on an annual donation return. However, there was no ban on structuring donations to evade disclosure, and the definition of "anonymous" allowed wilful blindness on the part of party officials to the identity of a donor. But those are questions of fact, and on the basis of the Herald's story, NZ First's 2007 annual return must now be considered questionable. The Electoral Commission should investigate, and if any violation of the law as it applied at the time is found, prosecute. Parties should not be allowed to get away with evading disclosure and preventing the public from knowing who is funding them.

Meanwhile, Doug Woolerton, Peter Brown, and Ron Mark must be feeling pretty embarrassed about all this. They put their credibility on the line in the EFA debate, standing up for transparency and honest politics against National's secrecy and lies, and their leader has just cut them off at the knees. If I was in their position, I'd be feeling pretty annoyed about it, and it would be nice to hear one of them say so.