Matt Nippert and the data journalism team at the Herald are uploading all of the electoral donations and crowdsourcing an analysis of it. All sorts of interesting things are cropping up. Like this:
New Labour MP Stuart Nash was bankrolled to the tune of $4000 a month by political backers for more than a year leading up to last year’s general election.
Mr Nash’s $99,000 in candidate donations meant his warchest ranked only behind Hone Harawira’s $105,000 courtesy of the Kim Dotcom and his Internet Party as being the country’s best-funded candidate.
Talley’s Group, a family-owned fishing and meat processing company based in Nelson, poured $42,500 into no fewer than nine separate races, mostly favouring National candidates fighting for regional seats.
Three members of the primary production select committee – Chester Borrows, Stuart Smith and Damien O’Connor – each received $5000.
Also, National is engaged in large-scale form of ‘legal laundering’:
An analysis of electoral finance declarations shows more than 80 per cent of donations to National Party candidates were channelled through party headquarters in a loophole described as akin to legal “laundering”.
National’s heavy reliance on funding candidates with donations from the party – shown in a Herald study to account for more than $1m out of $1.2m raised by their candidates for the 2014 general election – was a “striking use of electoral law that appears to be laundering the money”, said Otago University political science lecturer Bryce Edwards.
Electoral law requires candidates to reveal the identity of donors who contribute $1,500 or more, but political parties can keep donors secret even if they give up to $15,000.
Meanwhile Andrew Geddis points out the extremely unusual circumstances around Donghui Liu’s donation to Jamie-Lee Ross.
MPs and other political insiders get really upset if you suggest to them that this is all basically political corruption. Partly this is down to their massive egos. MPs don’t think it’s strange that corporations just give them huge sums of money. Are they not extraordinary individuals? Have they not been chosen by destiny to lead the nation? Related to that is cognitive dissonance. The system around political donations might look totally corrupt, but MPs all know that they personally are not corrupt – how dare anyone suggest that? – so Tallys must just be giving free money to the MPs that happen to sit on the Select Committee that oversees and regulates their industry because they personally believe in those individual MPs.
MPs also very quickly point out that the donations are not transactional. No one ever says ‘I’ll pay you a hundred thousand dollars and you’ll get a law passed for me.’ Which is superficially true but substantively false. Political scientists refer to the political donation system as a gift economy. Donations create a sense of obligation. It is basically like getting invited to a wedding: everyone understands that you have to reciprocate and buy the couple a gift. It doesn’t explicitly say that on the invite because it doesn’t have to.
The solutions are simple: (a) transparency, which means shutting down National’s latest donation laundering scam, and (b) strict policing of conflict of interest. If corporations believe in certain MPs so much they just have to shower them with money then that’s great, but those donations should preclude those MPs from sitting on Select Committees or holding portfolios that impact on their donors. Let’s see how devoted these companies remain if their political clients can’t deliver law changes for them.