Anonymous smears

One of the anonymous authors at tried yesterday to smear over, well doing the right thing.

In a post they filed under the “corruption” category, they revealed that Murray McCully has shares in Widespread Portfolios. Except they did not in fact reveal it – McCully did in the MPs Annual Register of Pecuniary Interests. He’s declared every single year since the Register started in 2006.

Then in a piece of detective work worthy of Sherlock Holmes, they went to the homepage of Widespread Portfolios and managed to dig up (I a being sarcastic – it is at the top of their main page) the statement:

Widespread Portfolios Limited (stockmarket code WID) invests primarily in overseas-based mining and mineral exploration companies.

So this so called corrupt behavior from McCully was to declare he had shares in a company that declares it invests in mining companies.

Now not only has McCully behaved entirely appropriately, the value of his shares turns out to be $31.63. McCully has followed the PM’s lead and mooted giving the shares to the young Max Key. Poor Max must be wondering why he is becoming the target of unwanted share parcels. He should suggest to his Dad that he would rather have one of those Ministerial credit cards that Ministers have been disposing of 🙂

looks stupid when he says:

Opposition leader Phil Goff said any shares in a mining company working in New Zealand represented a conflict of interest.

“Whenever there was a conflict of interest of any sort in the Cabinet I was part of, a minister was expected to remove him or herself from the room immediately and not participate in those discussions.”

What nonsense. Did half the Labour Cabinet remove themselves when they debated monetary policy, because they were owners of investment properties? Their interest was vastly more than $31.

A conflict of interest is generally about a decision to favour a specific company, not about policies that support a sector of the economy. Do farmers get excluded from decisions about primary production?

Exclusion on a conflict happens only when there is a direct beneficial interest, such as granting a contract to a company you have shares in – and even then, it has to be significant. If your super fund has lots of Telecom shares, that doesn’t mean you can’t ‘t be involved in decision on Telecom – again I suspect most of the Cabinet would have an indirect interest.

The major requirement around conflicts of interests is transparency. And McCully has complied 100%. As it happens, he had not even been present at any discussions on mining, but it is ridicolous of Goff to suggest he can’t be, because of $31 of shares.

But what really annoys me over The Standard’s labelling of this as corruption (the category they assigned to the story) is the immense double standards – and this applies to Phil Goff’s comments also.

Think back 18 months to Winston Peters. Here are the key facts in two cases:

  1. Winston knew of a $100,000 donation from Owen Glenn to his lawyer to cover his legal fees.
  2. Winston never ever declared this, as he was required to do so.
  3. Winston lobbied for Mr Glenn to be given a diplomatic appointment

But the more important case:

  1. Racing interests donated money to Winston Peters personally by paying his costs to Bob Clarkson.
  2. This personal donation of tens of thousands of dollars was never declared by Peters, and only exposed by the SFO
  3. The same racing interests also donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to NZ First.
  4. Peters was the portfolio minister for racing under Helen Clark, yet never disclosed the personal donations, or the party donations. Arguably no need to disclose the party ones, but he was required to disclose the personal one.
  5. Peters advocated for more money for the racing industry, including having the taxpayer pay for bigger prizes for races.
  6. Officials strongly advised against doing this, but Cabinet agreed to the extra funding advocated by Peters, unaware that Peters was receiving large donations from racing interests.

Now one can argue Peters was genuinely motivated to help the racing industry, and the donations did not influence him. That is not the issue today.

The issue is that this was the most serious breach of the conflict of interest regime we have seen. A personal donation which directly benefited a Minister (by paying off his damages to Clarkson) was not declared, and that Minister directly lobbied for money to be given in prizes to the racing industry.

So this puts Phil Goff’s holier than thou statement about practises in the last Government in perspective. And remember Phil Goff voted against the Privileges Committee report, as Labour insisted Winston had not broken the rules.

But back to The Standard, what did they have to say about Winston’s conflicts at the time:

On 22 July:

For my part, I don’t see the big deal in all this Peters donation stuff. Transparency in election funding is important (and it’s something that National and ACT have constantly opposed) but there is no evidence of Peters has been purposely secretive.

So no big deal. And even better:

As for the Dompost’s ‘revelations’ today – various members of the Vela family and companies owned by the family gave amounts that may have totalled $150,000 to New Zealand First over a period of five years. So what? The donations are legal and, as long as NZF didn’t receive more $10,000 from any individual person (legal or natural) in one financial year, they didn’t have to be declared under the law of the time.

However the donation to pay Winston’s legal costs to Clarkson was required to be disclosed, but more importantly back then The Standard had no concern about sums 1,000 times greater than $31 going to parties or politicians, and the party leader directly advocating for policies that will benefit those donors.

And again on 23 September:

So, the committee found what everyone knew: Peters story doesn’t add up. But it also shows that this story isn’t really about anything significant. Oh, no, a politician didn’t make the efforts he should have to find out what benefit he may have gained from a legal donation, his form was wrong as a result, and he made up a story to try to cover himself. Shoddy behaviour to be sure but nothing that actually impacts on the substance of government.

So as Winston supported Labour, there was nothing of substance wrong. Never mind he didn’t declare the personal donations to cover his legal costs to Clarkson, and never mind the Labour Cabinet had no idea when Peters was advocating more money for racing prizes, he was receiving these donations from companies that are likely to benefit.

Peter’s conduct was probably the biggest breach of standards since the marginal loans affair. Yet to Phil Goff and The Standard, it was all okay.

Now let us admit that we all are coloured to some degree and see things more rosy for the side you tend to support. That is natural, and expected. We’re not neutral reporters.

But I find those who blog anonymously stretch that to breaking point – there is almost no misconduct they won’t defend for their own side, and they will label as corrupt basically anything that moves from the other side.

The Standard suggest McCully is corrupt for following the rules and declaring his $31 of shares (yes they did not know the amount, but the issue is McCully has acted entirely appropriately) yet they defended Winston time and time again over horrendous breaches of the conflicts of interest regime.

I regard myself as a mate of Phil Heatley. Have even stayed at his house and he is one of the nicest guys you can meet. But when the Dom Post published their story yesterday, I described the use of the ministerial credit card as totally unacceptable with no ifs and no buts.

Those who blog anonymously tend to use extreme language to smear people. They call them corrupt, crooked or racist or bigoted. They do so, because they don’t have to defend their comments in real life.

So here is my challenge to Eddie. Stop the extreme language against people just because their politics are not your own, or have the guts to blog under your real name.

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