Kiri warms towards tougher party funding restrictions (perhaps encouraged by the Nats warning of the “chilling effect”)

Buzz from the Beehive

The National Party’s strong objection to plans to overhaul New Zealand’s political donations regime, expressed in submissions on the Government’s proposed sweeping changes to electoral law, were reported in a Stuff report last week.

The changes would include lowering the threshold for political parties to disclose donors from $15,000 to $1500 and require political parties to make public their annual financial statements .

This would have a “chilling effect” on democracy, the Nats contended.

The Ardern government isn’t too fussed about protecting the country’s democratic electoral arrangements nowadays, of course, as has become glaringly obvious over the past year or so (see here, here and here for evidence)

And hey – if the Nats (a) are bleating about an electoral-reform proposal being disagreeable and (b) are warning about its chilling effect on democracy…

Well, let’s get on with it.

And sure enough, Justice Minister Kiri Allan today announced changes to our electoral laws that will require the disclosure of:

  • donor identities for any party donations over $5,000;
  • the number and total value of party donations under $1,500 not made anonymously;
  • the proportion of total party donations that are in-kind (non-monetary) donations; and
  • loans to candidates from unregistered lenders. 

Allan said the changes aim to support participation in parliamentary elections, and improve public trust and confidence in New Zealand’s electoral system.

The word “democracy was absent from the press statement.

But:

“The results from public and targeted consultation were clear: New Zealanders want greater transparency about how our political parties and candidates are funded,” Kiri Allan said.

 “Appropriately regulated political donations and loans underpin public trust in the integrity of our electoral system, and the key institutions of a democratic government.

“Importantly, better transparency of party and candidate financing helps support public trust and confidence in our electoral system. These changes will provide the public with more of the information they want.”

Bearing in mind that transparency is a key objective, it is instructive to learn from the aforementioned Stuff report that

The Justice Ministry sought feedback on political fundraising ahead of a review by an independent panel of experts and academics. The National Party has released its submission on the changes. The Labour Party “politely declined” to do so.

An Electoral Amendment Bill will progress the changes shortly, in time for the 2023 General Election.

ACT leader David Seymour has promptly  responded to the announcement by saying the proposed changes “don’t solve any public policy problem and will prevent people from engaging in politics.”

So who’s right?  Allan says it will encourage people from engaging in politics.  Seymour says it will discourage them.

Let’s see what is argued in submissions to the select committee (assuming the Bill is referred to a committee for further scrutiny, which is something we should not take for granted).

More significantly, Seymour argued:

“The law is working – that’s why people are being prosecuted. We aren’t talking about changing the laws around murder because people have been charged with it.

“Everyone supports openness and transparency, but these changes have nothing to do with that and Labour can’t explain why they’re needed.

“There is no evidence that $15,000 donations are distorting politics in any way. If anyone seriously thinks that a political party would abandon its integrity and principles for $15,000, then they don’t understand the cost of modern campaigning.”

There were people in New Zealand who already feared persecution, missing out on Government contracts, missing out on board appointments and being ostracised by giving money to a political party Seymour said.

“It is outrageous that Labour are pushing these through just before an election. changes to electoral law should be widely consulted on with a view to implementing them in later electoral cycles, not the one they’re currently contesting.

“The fact Labour is trying to do this using an absolutely majority is constitutionally dangerous and damaging to New Zealand.”

The Greens are taking credit for the measures announced by Allan.

They reckon she hasn’t been tough enough but they did bring “democracy” into considerations in a press statement headed Democracy reforms are a Green win but we still need to cap donations.

A strong Green voice in Parliament has helped reduce the influence large secret money will have in future elections and finally ensured overseas New Zealanders will retain the right to vote even while stranded by the Pandemic.

 But…

“Labour needs to go further if Aotearoa is to have a truly level playing field where every New Zealander has an equal say in our democracy,” says Green spokesperson for electoral reform, Golriz Ghahraman.

We wonder how she will vote next time she gets a chance on the bill that will enable one group of Canterbury people to APPOINT two councillors to the Canterbury Regional Council, sparing them the need to campaign for votes – and be held accountable to voters – as every other aspiring candidate must do.

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