Friday, July 18, 2008


It turns out that Owen Glenn did give Winston Peters $100,000 - and that Winston "didn't know about it". The money was used to fund his electoral petition against Bob Clarkson, which really means it was to Peters in his role as a candidate. Unfortunately, it falls into a gap in electoral law - Peters wasn't technically a candidate at the time, the donation was made after the deadline for candidate returns, and in any case there was a six month limit on prosecutions. So, under the Electoral Act 1993, you could give a politician a hundred grand in a brown paper bag, and provided it wasn't between the time you were nominated and the time you were declared elected, no-one had to know about it. I'm glad we closed that loophole (or did we? There's a lot of wiggle room in the word "candidate" after all...)

But while Peters has escaped prosecution under the Electoral Act, he has exposed himself elsewhere. Since 2006, Members of Parliament have been required to submit annual returns of their pecuniary interests. These must include

a description of each gift (including hospitality and donations in cash or kind but excluding any donation made to cover expenses in an electoral campaign) received by the member that has an estimated market value in New Zealand of more than $500 and the name of the donor of each of those gifts (if known or reasonably ascertainable by the member)
Owen Glenn gave Peters, through his lawyer, $100,000 to cover legal expenses. Peters should have declared it. He didn't. Not in 2006, 2007, or 2008 [all PDF]. This is quite clearly a breach of Parliamentary Privilege under Standing Order 400 (h):
as a member, knowingly providing false or misleading information in a return of pecuniary interests
Peters knew his legal fees were being covered by donations. He says himself in the Herald article that he had been doing this since 1991:
He said that since 1991 he had been involved in 14 legal actions which had been partly funded through donations, and Mr Henry had "a firm policy" of not disclosing the source of donations.

"I have never been told the source of these donations but have personally met the shortfall which has amounted to many hundred thousands of dollars," Mr Peters said in a statement.

He knew there were donations, he didn't declare them. That's a clear breach of privilege. If a Member would like to lodge the complaint...

Not that I expect anything to really come of it. I have nothing but contempt for the Privileges Committee, a cosy kangaroo court where MPs vote on party lines and collude to overlook one another's indiscretions -even in a case such as this. But the rest of us ought to be concerned that a Member of Parliament has been receiving large amounts of anonymous cash for so long, without any sort of disclosure. Peters says everything is above board here, but the potential for corruption is blindingly obvious. And given that the Privileges Committee can't be trusted to do anything about it, its time we took the job off them, and gave it to the police. Who is giving money to our MPs and whether they tell us about it is not a private matter for Parliament, it is a public matter for the law. But the chances of our MPs voting to recognise that are about zero.