Written By: - Date published: 8:01 am, March 13th, 2019 - 44 comments
Categories: electoral commission, Media, national, same old national, Simon Bridges, the praiseworthy and the pitiful, you couldn't make this shit up - Tags: jami-lee ross
What a day yesterday was.
The announcement that the Serious Fraud Office is investigating National’s donation scandal dropped like a bomb in Parliament. After all it is not every day that the SFO announces that it is investigating a major political party. In fact this has never happened before.
I have been following this story for a while and earlier on said this about the background and the possible legal issues:
… [I]t was not as if their leader had been implicated in doing anything illegal.
Parties partition up donations all the time and split $100k donations into seven $14k donations and one $2 donation for the Feng Shui, not so that the identity of the donor has to be disclosed. After all it is not as if they were embarrassed that their giving an award to this person would not look good, or that the fact that an associate of this person wanting to be a National Party MP might be frowned on.
And the confident expressions that all was fine by independent commentators who used to be National Party General Secretaries was notable. After all they should know.
And the Electoral Law does not have provisions relating to donations funded by contributions. National’s Party Secretary was not obliged to give the donation back. He did not have reasonable grounds to believe that the donor has failed to comply with his obligation to advise that the donation had come from contributions. He was under no obligation to disclose the fact the donation came from contributions. And it is not an offence to file a false return.
And what about Simon Bridges in his own return mistakenly calling Aaron Bhatnagar “Cathedral Club”? This was an innocent mistake that happens all the time.
Of course the Police seeking advice from the Electoral Commission will result in no action being taken.
Simon Bridges talking to Cameron Slater showed how desperate National was at the time. And in a remarkable coincidence that may prove there is a divine entity the Human Rights Commission yesterday awarded record damages to Matt Blomfield to be paid by Cameron Slater. More on this from lprent later.
So how did Bridges respond yesterday? By saying it was a matter for the National Party and not him to worry about. That somehow he was distanced from what had happened and essentially it was not his fault. Cue the start of a campaign to throw a hapless National Party official under the wheels of the bus. From Jane Patterson at Radio New Zealand:
Mr Bridges’ first reaction was to try to distance himself completely, saying it was not a matter for him personally but one for party officials to deal with; the implication was those officials were ultimately responsible for filing electoral returns so any responsibility lay with them.
The SFO only says in the statement it had received the referral “in relation to the disclosure of political donations under the Electoral Act” which points squarely to National, and the people involved with it.
But there was nothing from the police or the SFO that explicitly excluded Mr Bridges.
Both authorities issued statements saying the investigation had been referred to the SFO but with few other details.
The SFO is known for investigating complex cases of financial crime, usually with big sums of money involved – it describes itself as “the lead law enforcement agency for investigating and prosecuting serious or complex financial crime, including bribery and corruption”.
But it also has the capacity to take into account “any relevant public interest considerations”. The police also noted the SFO holds “the appropriate mandate to look further into matters raised by the investigation to date” – make of that what you will.
For a super duper former prosecutor who could tell that Mallard was the leaker through his magic prosecutorial skills Bridges’s grasp of law is concerning. There is a concept of being a party to an offence if you aid, abet, incite, counsel, or procure another person to commit an offence.
And holy diversion but Simon is now calling for the banning of donations from overseas sources. From Jason Walls at the Herald:
National Party leader Simon Bridges has joined the Greens and a chorus of other MPs in saying he would support a ban on foreign donations to political parties.
This morning, he threw his weight behind any government proposals which would curb foreign influences in New Zealand and made specific mention of overseas donations.
“The reality of the situation, as I understand it legally, is for the most part overseas donations and the like are unlawful but there are a few small areas, such as under $1500 and so on, [which] is worth getting submissions on and clearing up.”
Current electoral law prohibits overseas donations of more than $1500 to political parties.
But these can be avoided by donating through New Zealand-registered corporate entities – such as companies, incorporated societies and trusts – which are allowed to donate regardless of whether they are owned or controlled by New Zealanders.
As an example the Inner Mongolia Rider Horse Industry (NZ) Limited gave National a donation of $150,000 and for electoral purposes this was not from an overseas person. I hope that National will let us have more details of the source of these funds so that we can debate this proposal fully.
Getting back to the main story it must have felt like Groundhog day to Simon. And no matter what is happening when the leader of a major party distances himself from his own party you know things are getting pretty strange.