Monday, February 04, 2019

Chapple and Anderson on electoral donations

Newsroom has a piece by VUW's Dr Simon Chapple and Thomas Anderson on reform of electoral donation laws, in which they argue for greater consistency and transparency. Donations to local government candidates are handled under a different and laxer regime to those to parties and candidates in general elections, and this seems odd and in need of fixing. But there's also a call for disclosure thresholds to be much lower, and for them to be the same for candidate and party donations:

there seems to be no reasonable justification for the Electoral Act setting different and arbitrary public anonymity thresholds for donations to candidates (which can be made anonymously below $1500) and for party donations (which can be made anonymously below $15,000 – ten times more than for candidates). Why is privacy in terms of party donations more highly valued than for candidate donations? In both cases, one has information on a person’s possible vote, arguably an equal privacy violation. The sensible thing would be to set the same anonymity dollar threshold for both candidates and parties.

In addition, donations can be made by organisations – businesses, NGOs, unions, etc – who cannot vote and hence have no voting privacy to violate. There is no reason in such cases not to publicly disclose even the smallest donations.

And they're completely right on this. There's no sensible reason why a donation to a candidate should have to be declared, while an identical donation to a party gets to remain anonymous. In both cases, the donor is trying to buy influence, and the public deserves to know about it. Of course, we all know the real reason: because our political parties write the law to suit themselves and their donors.