Monday, May 12, 2014

Election funding: Be the change you want to see in the world

The scandal around the National party's "cash for access" Cabinet Club has focused attention on our electoral donations regime again. Most of the secret deals to see National Cabinet Ministers simply weren't declared, because the amounts involved fall below the disclosure threshold. Which means we can't really see whether donors are getting favours or not, which leaves us with a cloud of suspicion over the whole process.

The Greens have a solution to this: lowering the disclosure threshold to $1,000. Which led to the obvious question last night on Twitter: have they considered voluntarily disclosing to this lower threshold? The answer: no:

We advocate lower legal threshold for disclosure of identity of donor. Haven't adopted lower voluntary threshold for disclosure.

As I've argued before, this is an appalling mistake. Firstly, it makes the Greens look like hypocrites. And secondly, it gives up the most powerful weapon they have in this struggle: public opinion. People like transparency, and they hate politicians who act out of self-interest and appear to have something to hide. The quickest way to force the dirty old parties to change the law is to be the change you want to see in the world and offer the public a visibly clean alternative. There's no legal impediment to doing so (though donors would have to be informed up front), and they undoubtedly have the information (both because they're required to collect it to comply with the present legal regime, and because they will want it themselves for fundraising purposes). The only thing stopping them from doing it is themselves.