The revelations in today’s Dompost that Peter Dunne’s United party took a donation from the Vela family shows again what a messy business donations can be. The Vela family opposed New Zealand following a new UN fishing agreement. Ross Meurant, acting for the Velas met with Dunne, days later he issued a press release opposing elements of the new rules. Meurant recommended that the Velas give Dunne a $5,000 donation to recognise his assistance and because it might make Dunne, then Revenue Minister, more sympathetic to tax issues the Velas were facing. The donation was given in 1999 or 2002.
It doesn’t look good but it’s not proof of corruption. Lobbying a politician is perfectly legitimate. Giving a donation to a politician is perfectly legitimate. It is natural that people will donate to parties whose policies they support. The problem is when a donation causes policy. It becomes a bit of a mutant chicken and the egg situation – did the donation cause the policy or the policy the donation, or would the policy have happened without the donation?
Meurant’s language, that a donation should be given because of Dunne’s “assistance” and “I believe the donation will have the effect of moderating opposition he [Mr Dunne] may have previously displayed toward IRD- related issues involving Vela Group” suggest the donation is leading to the policy but who knows? I’m not going to damn Dunne based on the word selection of the lead thug of the Springbok riots.
However, it is clear from the papers the Dom has quoted that Dunne was actively involved in the fundraising activities of his party, that he knew when donations were coming and who from. That’s a no-no. Leaders should not be actively involved in handling donations to prevent the appearance of cash for policy. As with all conflict of interest, it is the potential for conflict that is the problem. While Dunne has denied any link between his press release and the Vela donation, he still has questions to answer as to why he is directly involved with donations.
During the Glenn-Peters saga, I remember seeing the leaders asked whether they were involved in fundraising for their parties. It would be interesting to see what Dunne said. If he misled the media and the public just weeks ago, that would be a serious issue.
All in all, this is another example of why we need proper pubic funding of political parties. There is too much potential for corruption in the current system. The intersection between lobbyists and donors, all operating in a murky world, is not healthy. We should be willing to invest in the integrity of our democracy by freeing political parties from the need to go cap in hand to wealthy interests.