Monday, October 03, 2016

For pre-election donation disclosure

The weekend's Sunday Star Times had an excellent article arguing for pre-election disclosure of local body donations:

Like every candidate in every local body race – from the mayoral contest in Auckland where candidates are spending hundreds of thousands apiece, down to small council seats where some candidates reckon $200 is a stretch – Lester will be required to file, within 55 days of the October 8 election day, details of what he's spent on his campaign, how much he raised from donations, and who gave him the cash (except for donations under $1500, which can remain anonymous).

It's the kind of data dump that could be very revealing. Which mayoral candidate might have taken a huge sum from which property developer? Which local councillor may have been supported by a company that could benefit from a change to a zoning rule? Which single-issue lobby group might benefit if a council is stacked with their supporters?

The problem, though, is that even if you have a suspicious mind about the possible connections between donations and future decisions of the officials, by the time you see the electoral returns, it'll be too late to do anything. A good two months will have already passed since you voted.

And the answer is obvious: candidates know who's donated to them, so force them to tell us before we vote. Its a good idea, it would improve transparency and integrity in our democracy, and the candidates seem to support it. So why won't politicians do it?

The answer to that is also obvious: because if local body candidates have to disclose their dirty money before an election, then the public would expect parliamentary candidates and parties to do the same. And more transparent election funding is clearly not something the current government (which has reuced transparency while raking in more money than any party in history) is very keen on at all.

There are a few candidates - for example Hutt City's Mark Leicester - who are doing it anyway. It would be nice to see clean political parties doing this as well to create pressure for change.