Opinion

Politicians: Give them an inch, they take hundreds of thousands of dollars

Opinion: Well, colour me impressed. 

I never really thought meaningful electoral law reform that wasn’t beneficial to politicians was possible given those same self-serving politicians would have to vote for it.

So Kiritapu Allan’s first big play in her new gig as Justice Minister to address the absolute farce that is the law governing political donations was bold, nowhere near as bold as it could have been but bold nonetheless. Well played. 

It’s nice to be surprised by politicians. 

Among the changes, donors who give parties more than 5 grand will now have to disclose their identity. It used to be $15,000 before being named. Officials had recommended 1,500 but you know, self-serving politicians. 

I don’t have particularly strong feelings about people donating to political parties. Great if you’re into that kind of thing. I’d rather give to the SPCA but I get it, politics matters. 

To that end, it would be a shame to make it too difficult for people to donate to political parties and I think the thresholds would have been just fine if it weren’t for politicians. 

Any of them who complain about these changes have only themselves to blame. 

In 2020 I obtained details of the eight smaller donations Jami-Lee Ross had alleged were used to hide a $100,000 donation. I visited them all at their homes. There were links and discrepancies. 

The matter’s before the courts right now but basically, the allegation was that to get around declaring a $100k donation, you break it up into smaller donations under 15k that don’t need to be declared. 

They all took the piss for too long. Like National, Labour and New Zealand First are also in court over donation scandals. The Māori Party was also referred to the Serious Fraud Office. Even the more righteous than thou Green Party refused to give back $54,000 dollars in donations that it received from a severe animal abuser. 

They’re all as bad as each other to varying degrees, which is precisely why politicians can’t have nice things. Give them an inch, they take hundreds of thousands of dollars and work out how to hide it. 

Under these changes, it simply wouldn’t be worth the hassle trying to - allegedly - break up $100,000 into 20 smaller donations. No political party is worth that much admin. 

So good on Kiritapu Allan for addressing that. Good on her for saying QUOTE “Money talks, and New Zealanders who vote me into this office deserve to know where I'm receiving those funds.”

Actually acknowledging that these guys are swayed if not bought by ‘big money’ which is a term I stole from the Greens cause it cracked me up.

But the reforms aren’t perfect. 

The first donation scandal I broke was in 2014. The National Party’s cabinet club. Pay top dollar to have swanky cash-for-access with ministers and the Prime Minister. 

These stories are run of the mill now, the parties are doing them all the time - but back in 2014 it was the first we learnt of it and Labour and the Greens went to town with their criticism of Cabinet Club. 

Now, Labour does exactly the same thing. If you have wads of cash you can pay to get in a room with the Prime Minister, press the flesh to use the icky maxim, and directly lobby her. 

You may think this isn’t a big deal, that it’s classic fundraising stuff - which it is - but ask yourself, does the single mum, working three jobs, living in substandard housing in overpriced Porirua who can’t access Government support - can she shell out a couple of grand to tell the PM directly about her family’s needs, her community’s?

Minister Allen stopped short of nixing cabinet clubs and other cash-for-access schemes so her reforms stop short of being entirely effective or unalloyed. 

But they are politicians after all - we’d probably be disappointed if there wasn’t a catch.