Demand to publicise all Party donations gets louder

Indian Newslink to raise nationwide public debate

Venkat Raman

The fear of increasing foreign influence on New Zealand politics through donations made to political parties has raised the need for accountability and transparency through revised legislation and regulations.

At the core of such a need is the charge that National and Labour, the two major Political Parties receive donations, the former through foreign-owned but New Zealand domiciled businesses and the latter raising significant money through auctions at which the name of the ‘true donor’ is not revealed.

National MP Nick Smith favours the move, promising a bipartisan approach in legislating on this issue.

The Current Law

Under the current statutes, there is no maximum limit on the amount of donations or value of contributions that an identified New Zealand-based person or company can make to a candidate or a Party. Instead, there is  a threshold  above which a donation from such  a person  (either on its  own or in aggregate) must be reported by a candidate or Party in the annual returns that they submit to the Electoral Commission, being $ 1500 (about US$ 990) for donations to candidates and $ 15,000 for donations to Parties.

However, an anonymous donation or an overseas donation or contribution to either a candidate or Party cannot exceed $ 1500. A candidate or Party that receives an anonymous donation above this amount must pay the excess amount to the Electoral Commission, which deposits it into the government account. The excess amount of an overseas donation must be returned to the donor, if possible, or paid to the Electoral Commission.

Influence of the Rich

The issue of regulating Party donations stems from the fear of political dominance by the opulent. But the relation between concentrated wealth and the political power of the rich is scarcely limited to political spending or to a particular country. The rich have many means to shape public opinions such as establishing and funding community organisations, business groups and media organisations. Although their power may sometimes be used to influence the result of a particular vote, it is often deployed more subtly to shape public narratives about which problems deserve attention.

Dereck A Epp (University of Texas in Austin) and Enrico Borghetto (New University of Lisbon) analysed legislative proposals introduced to Parliaments in nine Countries of Western Europe between 1941 and 2014 and found that rising inequality was associated to the ‘negative agenda of the rich,’ focusing on matters related to crime and immigration.

As their wealth increases, they have a greater ability to influence politicians to concentrate on some policies and programmes, rather than on others.

Public Debate

Indian Newslink would like to start a nationwide public debate to discuss the need or otherwise of increasing transparency on donations to political parties, putting out the names of all donors on the public domain and other issues. We hope you will join and promote healthy discussions. We will publish more details soon.

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Photo Caption:

  1. Donations should comply with the spirit of the Law as well: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern with Opposition Leader Simon Bridges at the 11th Annual Indian Newslink Indian Business Awards 2018 (Picture by Narendra Bedekar)
  2. Collage of Political Parties in New Zealand Parliament (Image from New Zealand Parliament Website)
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