Monday, August 21, 2017

For transparent electoral donations

Our democracy is corrupt. Our political parties receive millions of dollars a year in "donations" (AKA bribes) from rich people seeking to buy favour and influence. In theory, we're protected against that by the forced disclosure of large donations, so people can see if e.g. state honours are "coincidentally" given to wealthy donors. But in reality, we're not protected at all, because more than 80% of that money is given in total secrecy:

At least four out of every five dollars donated to the two big parties is given secretly, as transparency around their political funding dwindles.

More than $31 million has been donated to registered political parties in the past six years, most of that to National.

Smaller parties like the Greens publicly disclose who provided most of their funding, but the big parties are secretive. 83 per cent ($8.7m over six years) of the money donated to National is from anonymous donors, and 80 per cent ($2.8m) of that donated to Labour.

The worst offender is NZ First: Most years, it allows every single one of its donors to remain secret.

And these are not small donations, ordinary people giving $20 or $50 to support their party. In 2016, the National Party took in $819,000 in donations between $5000 and $15000, while Labour gained $348,000 in the same range. And all of these sizeable donations are completely secret. Which means that we have no way of checking whether donors are getting favours in return.

This isn't good enough. To protect ourselves against corruption we need real transparency in this area, which means a much lower disclosure threshold - something around $1000, or even lower. Individual MPs have to disclose any gift they receive above the value of $500, and their parties should be treated no differently.