Wednesday, January 18, 2023

The rich are trying to buy the election

The Herald this morning reports on the rich's efforts to buy this year's election. And you'll never guess who their chosen vehicle is:

The National Party may start election year with a $2.3 million war chest raised from 24 big donors in 2022, while Labour has declared just $150,000 in large donations, according to Electoral Commission records.

The disparity has seen National raise more money from large donors in one year than Labour has raised in nearly a decade.

Most of National’s funds are thanks to a fundraising blitz from former deputy leader Paula Bennett who tapped richlisters, including New Zealand’s wealthiest man, for as much as $250,000 each last year. It is not clear how much of this funding was spent in 2022, and how much has been put aside for campaigning this year.

So we have a tiny elite throwing huge amounts of money around in an explicit attempt to subvert the democratic process and buy themselves power. Which you'd think is the sort of thing our electoral laws ought to prohibit...

The obvious question is what National has promised them in exchange for all this money. Because nobody forks over quarter of a million dollars for nothing. Especially a rich person.

But what really bites is that this is the last time we'll have such easy access to these figures. Because just before the holidays, Labour changed the law to make large donations less transparent. Where previously parties have been forced to declare them within ten working days of receipt, we'll now only get that level of disclosure in an election year (and then only up until polling day). Donations outside of that period - like the $2.3 million given to National reported on above - will only have to be declared annually. Which makes it much harder to link donations to policies (which was the point of rapid disclosure).

The public understands that there is too much money in politics, and the people providing it are getting something in exchange. Lower donation thresholds and real-time disclosure - the obvious methods to try and limit this - are overwhelmingly popular. And once again, the big parties effectively conspired with each other to write the law to suit themselves and cut us out. Just like they always do. And then they wonder why an increasing proportion of the public views them as institutionally corrupt? Maybe they should look in the mirror for once.

Democracy means one person, one vote, and all votes are equal. Money subverts this. We need to cut the rich out and level the playing field between citizens again. Which means not just transparency, but public funding, a ban on corporate donations, and a cap on individual ones. And actually jailing people who try and subvert our democracy, rather than looking the other way.