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Mike's Minute: Donation law is laudable but ultimately pointless

Author
Mike Hosking,
Publish Date
Wed, 4 Dec 2019, 9:33AM

Mike's Minute: Donation law is laudable but ultimately pointless

Author
Mike Hosking,
Publish Date
Wed, 4 Dec 2019, 9:33AM

COMMENT

I think most people would broadly agree that banning foreign money going to candidates and parties during elections is no bad idea.

It's driven, of course, by xenophobia and fear. The same way it is assumed, if you give large amounts to a party as a local, you must want something in return.

I know people who give money, and have done for years. All parties, all different reasons, and they expect nothing. They see it as nothing more than funding democracy - and always remember, what you and I might regard as a lot, for some it's pocket change.

Australia is busy angsting about this very issue at the moment and for good reason. They have examples of rule breaches and skullduggerous behaviour.

We have too. There would be few, if any, who haven't over the years got themselves into some sort of difficulty over donations. At this very moment, Labour has been selling lunches with the Prime Minister, and speeches by Grant Robertson and David Parker to raise money. National is in front of the Serious Fraud Office over claims made by Jami Lee-Ross. New Zealand First is dealing with the Electoral Commission, and possibly the police, over its foundation.

So the lesson here is, whatever rules you have in place, you will almost inevitably have trouble as either people try to circumvent them or it looks like they might have circumvented them but haven't so you have to explain it's all above board.

It's like tax law. Avoidance and evasion are two completely separate things. One is legal, one isn't, but both attract attention.

So what foreign money was causing trouble here? Who has bought influence? What party has best, or most, benefited from all the foreign bribery flowing into the country? Given there are no obvious answers to that, it might just be that this isn't actually an issue at all. Therefore the new rules solve nothing.

And who is a foreigner? And who's money is it when it hits the party coffers? What about a company ultimately owned by a foreigner but domiciled here? What about a company partially owned by a foreigner? What about a new resident or new arrival on a business visa? What about a foreigner putting money through a resident?

For every rule, you can dream up several scenarios to get around it. Like the tax, both legal and illegal.

There are two answers they won't touch. State funding for parties, you get what you get and that's it. Or a free market, where you go and get what you can.

Anything else is compromise and what Justice Minister Andrew Little is trying to do is potentially laudable, maybe even popular. But the test of all new law is its effectiveness.

Has there been a problem? And is this the law to fix it? I think I can come up to two nos to those two questions.

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