Disgraceful donation laws will give voters less choice

Thu, 28 Jul, 2022

“The Labour Party’s plan to change donation laws, dropping a bill with just a few hours’ notice is an act that chips away at the strength and trust of our democracy,” says ACT Leader David Seymour.

“Labour will drop the non-disclosable threshold from $15,000 down to $5000. This change will reduce funding to political parties, but it will not increase the transparency of our democracy.

“The reason is simple. As ACT’s main fundraiser for almost a decade, I can tell you that nobody receives undue influence for $15,000. To run a half decent campaign, you need at least $1.5 million and $15,000 is only one per cent of that. Nobody can get undue influence over a political party for funding one per cent of a campaign.

“We should value that fact that many people give money, with no tax deduction, simply because they want a party’s people and policies to reach a wider audience and have a chance of winning power.

“The changes will seriously defund political parties. In the last election year, 2020, there were 225 donations declared between $5,000 and $15,000. The total amount donated at these levels was $2,379,164. The average donation was $9,996.49. If these donors all reduced their donation to $5,000 to avoid disclosure, political parties would have received a total of $1,189,164 less funding to campaign and put their ideas before voters.

“Without donors, our democracy would not function, but they are being made out to be something sinister. In actual fact, donors often fear repercussions for being publicly identified for supporting a particular party.

“As I wrote to Kris Faafoi, when such a change was first proposed, people are reluctant to give if they will lose their privacy and potentially face political repercussions. They say things like ‘we support you, but our business does work for government, and we cannot risk that.’

“Not only will the law damage, rather than improve, our democracy, its timing is terrible.

“Introducing this law while Labour and National are before the courts for electoral fraud is a further problem. It would have been more respectful of comity with the Courts to have left this legislation until after these high profile cases, affecting parties voting on the legislation, had concluded. The Government might say that no time is the right time, but they’ve been in Government for five years, and we hope Labour and National will not always be getting prosecuted by the SFO.

“Ironically, by reducing what can be given legally without disclosure, the same sorts of people who end up in court under the current donation laws will work even harder to hide donations. Our democracy will, if anything, become less transparent as a result of this law.

“Making changes before an election, rather than gaining consensus and implementing post-election is the most egregious timing issue. The Government should seek bi-partisan consensus and seek for electoral law changes to come in after the election they are currently leading up to. No Government should change the laws to aid its own re-election.

“The change is nakedly political. Labour and Greens have pushed for these laws, knowing full well they will affect National and ACT more than other parties.

“If the law was in place and all donors giving between $5,000 and $15,000 all reduced their donations to $5,000, the effect on current parliamentary parties would be quite different. ACT would have lost $304,807 of funding, National $573,952. Labour and the Greens would lose $169,399 and $67,800 respectively.

“They’re screwing the scrum like the Republicans in America. Passing electoral laws falsely claimed to ‘strengthen democracy’ when in reality they are working for their own partisan advantage.

“What this will do is ensure people who are not prepared to have their support public due to business interests or basic privacy basic will not give, will or give less as a result. This means political parties will be less able to promote their views and policies - meaning voters will have less choice and our democracy will not function.

“It’s a sad day for democracy when the governing party uses its majority to screw the scrum. But as we’ve seen repeatedly from Labour, democracy is not something it values.”