. . . Is that Oravida and Donghua Liu both publicly donated large sums to the National Party, and Cabinet Ministers appear to have favored these donors in ways that even the Prime Minister admits created ‘a perception of a conflict of interest.’ Williamson ‘resigned’ over his phone call to the police and Judith Collins has come under intense scrutiny.
And that’s the system working as designed. The donation was public so the influence became public. But the system is designed not to work or to work only in very occasional cases. As I showed last week the bulk of the money donated to National (and the other large parties) is anonymous and vastly greater than the public donations. So Key and his party are effectively saying, ‘Yes, the tiny number of our public donations do make our Ministers look a bit corrupt but the staggeringly larger number of anonymous donations paid to a body called ‘The Cabinet Club’ have nothing to do with buying influence with Cabinet Ministers.’
People give money to political parties for different reasons. ACT is mostly funded by a libertarian called Alan Gibbs, and I’m pretty sure he’s funding that party because he believes in it. Phillip Mills just gave Labour and the Greens a lot of cash because he’s worried about climate change, and National insist that the Green Party now cares about climate change purely because they’ve been bought out by Phillip Mills. The union movement funds the Labour Party because its, well, the Labour Party.
I guess there’s someone in New Zealand who identifies with National’s current values of neo-liberal interventionalist laissez faire conservative dirigeste liberalism and gives accordingly. I imagine lots of the money Key attracts through his fundraisers is so that various bores can sit at a table in the same restaurant as him and then subsequently bray to their friends, ‘Yes, I was having dinner with my friend John Key the other night . . .’ And obviously, pretty much every knighthood awarded ‘For services to business’ is awarded on the basis of a gigantic cheque written out to whatever party happened to be in government. So not every donation is transactional. But National’s argument that their tiny number of public donations look like corruption but their enormous number of private donations are not is simply not believable.
Is the only alternative public funding of political parties? I think that’s a false choice and I’d like to try a system with a lot more transparency before we go that way. Like I said the other day, the average New Zealander pays just under $150 a year to charity. Let’s be generous and cap anonymous donations at ten times that amount: $1500 and then see what happens to National’s donor base, who love the values of the National Party so much that they secretly give them over a million dollars a year expecting nothing in return.