The Dim-Post

May 9, 2014

Chart of the day, Everybody does it edition

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 2:01 pm

The Electoral Commission documents the political donations given to our political parties and posts them on their site in, frustratingly, pdf format. In light of recent events I went through and added up how much the four largest political parties have received in anonymous donations (ie. donations that are less than $15,000) over the last three years.

donations

Why are these donations anonymous? I think the argument is privacy: ordinary kiwis should be able to give a few dollars to a political cause they believe in without it being made public. Only, the number of people giving a small amount of money to our political parties is so small you can’t really graph it. Most people who donate anonymously to National and Labour seem to donate in the $5000 range. Bust most of the cash is made from donations of about $10,000. Just to put this into context, according to this BERL report using data sourced from IRD, the average New Zealander donates about $133/year to charity.

The other point to make here is that the amount the big parties – and National especially – raise through declared donations is tiny in comparison. Almost all of the money entering our political system is anonymous and undeclared.

Update: Andrew Geddis writes in the comments:

Only, the number of people giving a small amount of money to our political parties is so small you can’t really graph it. Most people who donate anonymously to National and Labour seem to donate in the $5000 range.

Not necessarily. You’ve misunderstood the data.

By law, parties must each year disclose a bunch of info to the Electoral Commission. This includes:
(1) Names of everyone who gives more than $15,000 in that year and how much they gave.
(2) Number and total amount of donations received between $5000 and $15000.
(3) Number and total amount of donations received between $1500 and $5000.
(4) Number and total amount of anonymous donations received under $1500 (where “anonymous” means that no-one in the party knows or has good reason to suspect who the donor really is).

Note, then, what parties don’t have to disclose (and so don’t in practice do so): how much they receive from not anonymous donors who give the party less than $1500 in the year. So, when I give my annual $1000 to the ACT Party by way of a cheque with my name on it, the ACT Party doesn’t have to include my donation in any public filings with the Electoral Commission or anyone else.

Point being, the data you are working with is incomplete. So it makes it look like parties are getting the vast majority of their money in chunks of $1500 or more. And maybe they are. But we can’t know for sure, because a whole lot of the necessary information is missing.

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38 Comments »

  1. Oh, look, everybody does it. Some just do it better

    Comment by @simonpnz — May 9, 2014 @ 2:07 pm

  2. Only, the number of people giving a small amount of money to our political parties is so small you can’t really graph it. Most people who donate anonymously to National and Labour seem to donate in the $5000 range.

    Not necessarily. You’ve misunderstood the data.

    By law, parties must each year disclose a bunch of info to the Electoral Commission. This includes:
    (1) Names of everyone who gives more than $15,000 in that year and how much they gave.
    (2) Number and total amount of donations received between $5000 and $15000.
    (3) Number and total amount of donations received between $1500 and $5000.
    (4) Number and total amount of anonymous donations received under $1500 (where “anonymous” means that no-one in the party knows or has good reason to suspect who the donor really is).

    Note, then, what parties don’t have to disclose (and so don’t in practice do so): how much they receive from not anonymous donors who give the party less than $1500 in the year. So, when I give my annual $1000 to the ACT Party by way of a cheque with my name on it, the ACT Party doesn’t have to include my donation in any public filings with the Electoral Commission or anyone else.

    Point being, the data you are working with is incomplete. So it makes it look like parties are getting the vast majority of their money in chunks of $1500 or more. And maybe they are. But we can’t know for sure, because a whole lot of the necessary information is missing.

    Comment by Andrew Geddis — May 9, 2014 @ 2:12 pm

  3. Actually seems like not a particularly massive amount over 3 FYs.

    How does the chart look when declared donations are accounted for I wonder?

    Comment by Gregor W — May 9, 2014 @ 2:14 pm

  4. Sigh … I just wrote a long, involved comment explaining why your analysis is miseading, and wordpress sent it to moderation.

    Shorter version, then – Parties don’t have to disclose donations of less than $1500 where they know the donor’s identity. So the data you’re working with is missing a whole lot of donations; namely, everything that the parties got for the last three years from anyone who gave less than $1500 where the party knew who they were.

    Comment by Andrew Geddis — May 9, 2014 @ 2:15 pm

  5. Ban all donations and state fund parties based largely on membership, plus some based on vote share. Problem solved, until anonymously funded Kiwi-style PACs come along.

    Comment by Sanctuary — May 9, 2014 @ 2:33 pm

  6. New National Party Fundraising Team Theme Song:

    Nobody does it better
    Makes me feel sad for the rest
    Nobody does it half as good as you
    Baby, you’re the best

    I wasn’t lookin’, but somehow you found me
    I tried to hide from your love light
    But like Heaven above me, the spy who loved me
    Is keeping all my secrets safe tonight

    And nobody does it better
    Though sometimes I wish someone could
    Nobody does it quite the way you do
    Why’d you have to be so good?

    The way that you hold me whenever you hold me
    There’s some kind of magic inside you
    That keeps me from runnin’, but just keep it comin’
    How’d you learn to do the things you do?

    And nobody does it better
    Makes me feel sad for the rest
    Nobody does it half as good as you
    Baby, baby, darling, you’re the best

    (With apologies to Marvin Hamlisch, Carole Bayer Sager and Carly Simon.)

    Comment by James Shaw — May 9, 2014 @ 2:36 pm

  7. “doesn’t have to include my donation in any public filings with the Electoral Commission or anyone else.”

    seriously? – thats just stupid. I can see a valid argument in not sending the exact names to the electoral commission, but not including an entire set of data is farcical if we want to have intelligent discussions about party funding.

    its an arrangement i suspect both national and labour are quite happy with

    Comment by framu — May 9, 2014 @ 2:38 pm

  8. Dear Sanctuary stop encouraging the government to pick my pocket.

    Many thanks

    The quiet punter

    Comment by The quiet punter — May 9, 2014 @ 2:40 pm

  9. And this doesn’t include the recent hidden Antoine’s donations, does it?

    Comment by George — May 9, 2014 @ 2:44 pm

  10. And this doesn’t include the recent hidden Antoine’s donations, does it?

    No – it won’t. They were “disclosed” under the name of Antoine’s owner (whom I forget), in a form that showed that his apparent donation was actually made up of a bunch of “contributions” from others. But the effect is to exclude them from Danyl’s data set.

    Comment by Andrew Geddis — May 9, 2014 @ 3:28 pm

  11. I can see a valid argument in not sending the exact names to the electoral commission, but not including an entire set of data is farcical if we want to have intelligent discussions about party funding.

    I think the original idea was to allow the public some insight into how much parties were getting from “biggish” donations (without knowing who gave them), rather than to provide a complete overview of each party’s financial dealings. But you’d have to check with David Farrar – the concept was his.

    Comment by Andrew Geddis — May 9, 2014 @ 3:30 pm

  12. Key claimed in the house that he’s ready with the nuclear option if National’s Favours-for-Funders faces any further scrutiny. “Political parties right across Parliament attend events that are fund-raising events…. I have quite a long list… I just make one little warning to [Labour]: do not go there. But if you want me to, I am more than happy to.”

    Key opened up ministerial spending to greater scrutiny. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if he discovered the same will with regards to donations?

    Secret funding by a tiny group of wealthy elite is a pretty shitty way to run a democracy imho. I’m not sure how Labour can support it.

    Comment by Oh Busby — May 9, 2014 @ 3:35 pm

  13. Two things. First, as Andrew says the data you are working with is incomplete. That is why Labour and the Greens appear to have raised so little: Because they get lots of smaller non-anonymous donations which aren’t declared on this form. Second, it is pretty common in fundraising to have an 80:20 split, so 20% of your donors give 80% of the money. That’s just normal and mainly shows that people who are really into a cause (and reasonably well off) give more than those who aren’t. So just because you are getting a few big donations doesnt preclude you getting lots of small ones as well. In fact, it would be odd if you didnt.

    Looking at their total spend on elections (as a v rough proxy of how much they’re raising) National seems to have an aytpical donor base (compared to most causes) with an unusually high proportion of donors giving larger amounts. But not surprising when you consider who they represent, ie, business owners, higher earners etc

    Comment by lucyjh — May 9, 2014 @ 6:07 pm

  14. Also I think a high proportion of those Green donations in the $5000 to $15000 range actually come from their own MPs who give 10% of their salaries which until recently was about $14,000. The Greens are pretty open about that…

    Comment by lucyjh — May 9, 2014 @ 6:23 pm

  15. It seems the position of “New Zealand’s answer to Nate Silver” is still vacant.

    Comment by kalvarnsen — May 9, 2014 @ 6:26 pm

  16. @Lucyjh,

    No – the MPs tithed donations are more than $15000, so they are all declared. This was the case even back in 2011.

    Comment by Andrew Geddis — May 9, 2014 @ 7:03 pm

  17. I would be very interesting, and very healthy for our democracy, for us to see total donations and fundraising totals for all political parties. They might be private organisations, but they are all vying to have a presence in the public domain, so I think this is entirely justified. As citizens we should have the right to know where the money for our political leaders is coming from.

    It shouldn’t come as any surprise to see that National raises more money than anyone else, and probably by a significant margin. They are the party that represents the wealthy and the powerful (and other groups too, but definitely the wealthy and powerful), so they have the biggest donor and fundraiser base. Whether we as a nation are OK with this is another issue, as money does buy political results. It buys advertising, polling results, full-time admin and development staff, focus groups and a heap of other things that modern political parties need.

    The real question for me is, is this funding disparity a good thing for our democracy? I don’t think it is, but I’m biased, being a Green party candidate.

    Public funding of political parties is one answer, but at the very least, some form of ‘funding cap’, maybe linked to membership and/or proportion of the vote (or maybe not, and rather just an absolute amount per party). It’s used to establish a degree of equivalence in professional sport, maybe some similar should be considered here.

    Comment by Tane Woodley — May 9, 2014 @ 7:27 pm

  18. A review of political party finding would be timely with looking at some form public funding being added to the mix.

    Norman is I think aiming to have the public fund his party as they’re excluded from the cosy arrangements Labour and National enjoy.

    His argument would carry more weight with me if he could see that he’s as guilty of one-eyed special pleading as the major parties. Trying to argue Greenpeace isn’t a lobby group was silly. And I saw a recent twitter exchange where the Greens were claiming their well-off business donors are different to, and so deserve to be treated less critically, to less oversight, than those of Labour and National. Because their donors Care For The World and All the Children of Today and the Future. Apparently no one else does and these Saints don’t require the earthly scrutiny other materialist lobbyists require,

    All the parties have their particular line in special pleading and it’s hard to see how a constructive review could happen. I think it would be a quite complex arrangement anyway. I’d keep some fund raising – it’s party of he sociality of politics. But what system could be successful in defining what particular parties get in particular circumstances. We’re continuing to see scurmishes on the boundaries of MMP – waka jumping, electorate arrangement and overhangs.

    Determining public funding system would not be easy but I’m sure the Greens will say it would be – their donors are the choosen supporters of the High Priests of the Generations to Come.

    Comment by NeiiM — May 9, 2014 @ 8:07 pm

  19. @NeilM: Don’t suppose you have a link to this twitter convo?

    Comment by kalvarnsen — May 10, 2014 @ 2:54 am

  20. Andrew – you are right sorry. I was too lazy to go look up the pdfs on my phone.

    Comment by lucyjh — May 10, 2014 @ 8:47 am

  21. I’d like to see this tiwtter convo as well. Eagerly awaiting NeilM’s link.

    Comment by Rob — May 10, 2014 @ 11:09 am

  22. The fact all parties are a) getting most of their money from smallish donations and b) aren’t really getting huge amounts of money, is a fairly healthy sign for our democracy.

    Comment by Swan — May 10, 2014 @ 6:14 pm

  23. I have made this point elsewhere and am happy to be educated. When the Electoral Finance Act was promoted here, based on the Canadian model, was it not he case that the aspect of the Canadian version which capped union donations was altered? Before I raise hackles I am hoping to point out that there is more than one way to donate. There is cash and there is labour and time. I am torn, for example, l think that allowing elections to be state funded alone is unworkable, especially if people who are not enrolled members of political party may volunteer many hours of unaudited free labour to a party it supports as this may represents undeclared money, but is not usually considered as such. If this activity takes part while a person is at work, one might argue that this is worthy of scrutiny. At the same time I think anonymous donation falls under a similar category. My view is no anonymous donations at all. At the same time just as donations may be capped, should any large organisation wish to donate the labour of its members or employees, some way to audit or calculate the cash value should be applied also so that may be taken into account, if the principle promoted is transparency and erradication of unfair advantage for one side.

    Comment by Lee C — May 11, 2014 @ 7:12 am

  24. Lee, if you think that is the case, why don’t you compare and contrast our Electoral Finance Act with the Canadian one. Then you can tell us all about the differences.

    Comment by RJL — May 11, 2014 @ 9:00 am

  25. Canada bans donations from everyone except individual flesh and blood voters, who may only contribute up to CAN$1200 to a party in a year. But it also gives very extensive (and expensive) public subventions (i.e. wads of cash) to qualifying parties. So there’s your choice – are you happy to give tax dollars to political parties in order to ban union donations?

    Check out Wikipedia for a general overview: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federal_political_financing_in_Canada

    Comment by Flashing Light — May 11, 2014 @ 9:48 am

  26. I oppose any sort of state funding of political parties that reinforces the tweedle dum/tweedle dee palace politics syndrome of political parties dominated by neo-liberal careerists. In my view, the single biggest sickness of body politic in Western democracies is the usurpation of political parties by establishment careerists. The rise of far right parties across the West that claim a mandate from those now shut out of the cosy middle & upper class is a symptom of this disease. To my mind, if politicians want state funding to free their weak wills from the clutches of big money then those stumping up the cash – the public – need a few things in return, along with strings attached to the money. The best way to deal with careerists is term limits, possibly combined with a ban on ex-MPs taking certain types of jobs for, say, three years after they leave parliament. The best way of state funding parties is to base it on three factors – the majority of the money a straight per-head annual payment for each financial party member (capped), a lesser amount based on the number of seats a party has and an even lesser amount on the average polling the party has had in the previous 12 months. Say a 65-25-10% ratio. Parties would then have to pay attention to maintaining membership, and listening to it.

    Comment by Sanctuary — May 11, 2014 @ 12:35 pm

  27. “The best way of state funding parties is to base it on three factors – the majority of the money a straight per-head annual payment for each financial party member (capped), a lesser amount based on the number of seats a party has and an even lesser amount on the average polling the party has had in the previous 12 months.”

    Vouchers. Every citizen ticks a box saying who they want to get their $10 (or however much). Or another box that says ‘none of them’. The ‘none of them’ funds are returned to the consolidated fund.

    Comment by Pascal's bookie — May 11, 2014 @ 12:51 pm

  28. I shall form a political party called “None Of Them”! We’ll dominate at the polls! ;) I’ll have to think about vouchers. My immediate thought though is “none of them” should not be an option.

    Comment by Sanctuary — May 11, 2014 @ 12:56 pm

  29. >In my view, the single biggest sickness of body politic in Western democracies is the usurpation of political parties by establishment careerists. The rise of far right parties across the West that claim a mandate from those now shut out of the cosy middle & upper class is a symptom of this disease.

    Um…except that it was even worse under amateur politicians, who pretty much have to come from an idle rich class to even be able to afford to participate. Yes, lets take away politics as a career, so that ONLY people like John Key can afford to play. Great idea. Bring back the 19th Century.

    >The best way to deal with careerists is term limits, possibly combined with a ban on ex-MPs taking certain types of jobs for, say, three years after they leave parliament.

    Yes, what a smashing idea. Then if we get a truly competent leader, the constitution will kick them out, just like it has several times already in the USA. It’s absolutely essential that instead of allowing politicians to pursue it competently as a career, they should all be amateurs, who just as they’re hitting any kind of form, will be automatically dismissed. Furthermore, any rich and famous person will have a tremendous advantage when they walk in. That’s definitely what the revolution needs. More President Dubya Bushes, less President Roosevelts. If only term limits had been around under Roosevelt, that blasted New Deal might never have happened.

    Comment by Ben Wilson — May 11, 2014 @ 6:40 pm

  30. Bear in mind Ben, that Teddy Rooseveldt was an idle-rich, blue-blood Grandee before he was a politician.

    Comment by Gregor W — May 11, 2014 @ 7:38 pm

  31. Hit enter to early….

    … as was FDR, who’s wife was Teddy’s cousin.

    Comment by Gregor W — May 11, 2014 @ 7:42 pm

  32. Blimey Ben, did you Mum not like the chocolates? I almost couldn’t be bothered replying to your assumption riddled post, but here we go –

    “…Um…except that it was even worse under amateur politicians, who pretty much have to come from an idle rich class…”

    This would only be true if I said don’t pay politicians. Which I have not. I doubt that on their current pay many indigent poor would feel unable to tro put themselves forward for election. Secondly, it is obvious that part of any quid pro quo would have to include some sort of post parliamentary superannuation payments for the stand down period for those who could not find work due to job restrictions.

    “… Then if we get a truly competent leader, the constitution will kick them out…”

    Firstly, the whole point of democracy is no one irreplaceable.

    Secondly, I have mentioned no limits – you seem to assume that I have the American limits in mind, when I do not – but I do think nine years is long enough for anyone as a list backbencher. If a list backbencher is not going to make an impact in nine years then we are unlikely to uncover a new JFK if we let them hang around for 12. 15 or 21 years. I don’t think constituency MPs should be treated the same as list MPs as local electors have a right to elect who they wish. Serving cabinet ministers and the PM are also exempt, except for maybe an absolute limit of around 25 years or everyone except the PM – which would have meant the compulsory retirement in 2006 of Phil Goff and 2009 of Trevor Mallard, Peter Dunne and Annette King, for example. You’d have a great deal of trouble convincing me those four still comprise a talent pool that is critical to our good governance. Besides, not being in parliament does not mean they are lost to the nation, I assume that most of the compulsorily retired will still be living here.

    Comment by Sanctuary — May 11, 2014 @ 9:37 pm

  33. I’m with Sanc on this one. But while wondering if the career pollies were any better than the late bloomers I realised I couldn’t think of any that seemed to be especially effective. Apart from Louisa Wall and Jeanette Fitzsimons.

    It’s probably more a question for those who work within the system as to an outsider with the media and these blogs for insight west as well be watching Days of our Lives.

    But if we want politicians who progress the position of NZ and/or their constituents, gut instinct says that fresh blood will be best. But is gut instinct right?

    Comment by nigelsagentinthefield — May 12, 2014 @ 12:22 am

  34. Perhaps that $3m is how National plan to get NZ back in surplus. That might explain the overly diligent fundraising. And then the party can donate it to NZ and get us in the black. Yeah right. Like they would do anything for the good of the country.

    Comment by nigelsagentinthefield — May 12, 2014 @ 12:26 am

  35. > Vouchers. Every citizen ticks a box saying who they want to get their $10 (or however much). Or another box that says ‘none of them’. The ‘none of them’ funds are returned to the consolidated fund.

    Seems like that’s going to deliver pretty much the same results as allocating the funds based on vote share. How many people are going to pick different boxes for the funding voucher and for their actual vote?

    I guess it’d be slightly better for left-wing parties, who are going to have a lower fraction of supporters who oppose state funding enough to tick “none of them”.

    Comment by Steve D — May 12, 2014 @ 12:20 pm

  36. “Seems like that’s going to deliver pretty much the same results as allocating the funds based on vote share. How many people are going to pick different boxes for the funding voucher and for their actual vote?”

    Probably wouldn’t do it at election time, maebbe mid term or when electoral rolls are being sorted.

    But I could see myself giving a voucher to a party that i thought should be heard more from, even if I didn’t plan on votoing for them. There wouldn;t be the risk of ‘wasted vote ‘ in the voucher thing that there is in voting, for example.

    But the point of it would be that the funding would be determined by citizens, not the politicians.

    Comment by Alex Coleman — May 12, 2014 @ 12:34 pm

  37. > But I could see myself giving a voucher to a party that i thought should be heard more from, even if I didn’t plan on votoing for them.

    Yes, I suppose a fair few people might do that. Which would probably boost the figures for minor parties over major parties. Funding on party membership would probably have a similar result, for similar reasons: people who like minor parties are way more likely to get involved with the party, to the point that some parties have more members than they get votes.

    Party membership isn’t that different from a voucher system, really, although it comes with a small fee and a bit of paperwork. You could even have “vouchers” and party membership meet halfway: people join parties at the same time as registering to vote, as in the US where people register to vote as a member of a party, or as an independent. You don’t pay a fee, you can join a maximum of one party, and parties get funded based on their registered members.

    > But the point of it would be that the funding would be determined by citizens, not the politicians.

    That’s true of any system based around a popularity measurement – whether party membership, opinion polls, actual votes in elections, the “voucher” system, or a combination of those.

    Comment by Steve D — May 12, 2014 @ 1:54 pm

  38. RJL I am not your personal research assistant google it yourself.

    Comment by Lee C — May 12, 2014 @ 6:33 pm


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