National has released its proposals for election law. Labour has criticised the $10,000 level above which donations must be disclosed as too high. National Party campaigner David Farrar gets very defensive on Kiwiblog every time people argue for a lower level in the interests of transparency.
Farrar estimates that you need to give at least $50,000 to buy influence. He’s an National Party insider so he probably knows – that may be their going rate.
To those who point out that the National Party only disclosed donations of $130,000 in election year 2008 compared with their spend of $2,200,000, Farrar says that the donations were captured in 2007.
He’s right about that to some extent – Ruth Laugesen wrote in the SST in late 2007 that
The National Party pulled in 11th-hour funding from its secret trusts and anonymous donors in a bid to escape new election campaign finance rules, the Sunday Star-Times has been told.
A former major anonymous donor to the National Party told the Star-Times that party president Judith Kirk approached previous anonymous donors late last year seeking donations before the law took effect on December 20.
Setting aside the fact that Judy Kirk knew the names of “the previous anonymous donors” so they weren’t anonymous after all, this shows that the National Party arranged its affairs to bring in $704,100 in 2007, of which $424,100 came undisclosed from the Waitemata Trust.That Trust did not declare any donation to National in 2008.
But in 2004 and 2005 the Waitemata Trust gave National a combined total of $1,435,922. There’s a million dollars difference we know nothing about – that buys a lot of influence by Farrar’s standard.
What the $10,000 limit makes it easy to do is to arrange affairs so that many lots of $10,000 can be given by the same person through separate legal entities – they could be companies or trusts set up for the purpose. It would all be perfectly legal. Multiple donors of $50,000 – five lots of $10,000 – could be known to the National Party. We have absolutely no idea how much influence could have been bought this way in 2008.
Bill English has shown that National people do arrange their affairs to gain benefits while claiming that they are legal. What Bill did may or may not be legal but it wasn’t right.
Simon Power has said he is willing to consider changes to make donations more transparent. That would be the right thing to do.