Union donations

January 20th, 2012 at 7:09 am by David Farrar

Claire Trevett in the NZ Herald reports:

(2008 donation in brackets)
* Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union: $40,000 (2008: $60,000)
* Dairy Workers’ Union: $25,000 (2008: $12,000)
* Maritime Union: $18,500 (2008: none disclosed)
* Meat Workers’ Union: $18,000 (2008: $25,500)
* Service and Food Workers’ Union: $15,000 (2008: $20,000)
* FIRST Union (not affiliated): $4000 (2008: nil)

Donations of over $30,000 must be disclosed within 10 days of being made, but those over $15,000 but no greater than $30,000 do not have to be disclosed until the party does its annual return by 30 April 2012.

The here have disclosed early in response to inquiries by the Herald, which is commendable.

In total they gave $110,500 of donations above the disclosure threshold in 2011. In 2008 it was $117,500 so not a lot of change.

National’s donations over $30,000 have already been disclosed and commented upon. It will be interesting to see in early May who else donated above $15,000.

Also of interest is a new requirement (proposed by me, amongst others) that for the first time parties have to reveal the number of donations they received below the individual disclosure limit – in bands. This will give us a more holistic look at how parties are funded, and will also be out in May.

18 Responses to “Union donations”

  1. scanner (343 comments) says:

    Isn’t disclosure aka sunlight a wonderful thing, no wonder the Labour party hates it so much.
    Apart from Mad Red Darien, who must be gutted that she hasn’t been unleashed to wreck havoc on the capitalists that are beating up the “poor” ($91k pa) worker, the rest of the the Labour party are trying to prove how long they can balance on top of the fence.
    Just two notes of caution, pulling splinters from your arse in public is going to be a very embarrassing process, and that fence is getting higher by the day making the fall harder and more spectacular.
    Even after being smashed into a pulp last November they still haven’t learn t, and with most workers in the country now starting to side with the port company Labour continue to bury their heads in the sand.

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  2. Keeping Stock (12,407 comments) says:

    I wonder if the MUNZ blokes think that having Darien Fenton join them on their picket line has been bang for their $18,500 bucks. I’m thinking that they might have expected a bit more support from their mates in the Labour Party…

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  3. Gwilly (195 comments) says:

    Another reason why Unions should be banned!

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  4. Scott Chris (7,982 comments) says:

    Well one way to get rid of Union influence on politics is to ban all donations from interested parties and introduce a voucher system, whereby every voter is given X dollars in voucher form by the government to donate to the candidate(s) of his choosing.

    Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Lessig explains to Jon Stewart how the system would work, and why it needs to be implemented, especially in the United States.


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  5. Yoza (3,053 comments) says:

    The trouble with the idea being pitched by Lessig is the tacit media acceptance that buying political influence is democracy in action. Realistically, the amount unions can afford to influence the political decision making process is insignificant compared to the amount big business (or as Lessig puts it, “…the .05%…”) splashes around.

    As long as public perception is manipulated by corporate interests through established institutions, like the media, education and the ‘public’ service, the voting system will serve as little more than a vehicle through which the ‘masters’ exculpate their illegitimate authority.

    The poverty the Labour Party has overseen is strikingly similar to the poverty the National Party promotes.

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  6. scanner (343 comments) says:

    The MUNZ must regret their investment, for $18,500 they have had a couple of cameo appearances from a muzzled toothless old crone, Solid As – Yeah Right.

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  7. flipper (5,304 comments) says:

    Good morning.

    Chrissie the Wussie is at it again.

    By definition, anything said by a Harvard twit on Stewart ( who claims to be a comedian of sorts) is crap.

    Personally, I have no objection to unions donating money to whomsoever they please – provided they first have a secret ballot (supervised by an outside agency), and they are not able to vote in party candidate selection. Voting should be confined to living persons with all bodies corporate (et al) excluded.

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  8. david (2,348 comments) says:

    What Crap Scott

    State funding of political parties by any mechanism you choose to promote in an effort tio disguise it is anathema to democracy and the role of taxation in an effective state.

    There is no public money other than that which is taken from teh citizens by force and I for one object strenuously to the concept that someone is going to take money from my income and distribute it to political parties to fund their activities in a way that I have no influence over.

    Just let me decide how I wish to distribute my own income (or not) and keep your bloody hands out of my pocket.

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  9. Monty (941 comments) says:

    this is not the half of it. The unions may limit ditrect funding (Big union funding and influence). the real benefit is the union staff who during the election period are all paid to essentially campaign full time for the Labour Party. Are the union members who pay their dues, also aware that the union staff down tools to campaign full time.

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  10. samtheman (40 comments) says:


    What a fantastic idea, thanks for bringing it up. Imagine how much better off the whole world would be if American politicians weren’t hamstrung by having to appease their donors. I don’t feel like we have nearly as much of a problem in NZ, anytime it looks like big money has tried to influence an election it turns voters off (see the Exclusive Brethren fiasco).

    However, I still believe our current system is somewhat anti-democratic. While we all get to vote for parties it is only those with the money who can have a say in that party’s policy agenda – see the undue influence unions have on Labour. State funding for parties isn’t an “anathema to democracy”, it is really the only democratic way to fund political parties, where every person in NZ gets the same say.

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  11. BeaB (2,513 comments) says:

    Even the laggard Herald has a cartoon this morning asking where/who Shearer is? What a lost opportunity for him to define the employment/Labour debate for the year and be on the front foot. Instead he will be playing catch-up as the Government leads the debate from next week.
    What a shame our major newspaper still thinks ambulance chasing should be its front page news and not a crucial strike affecting our whole economy and backgrounders about all the players including the union payments to the Labour Party.
    I know they think death, crime and disaster are the only way to sell papers but perhaps they are misreading (and underestimating) the public who are looking now for their information elsewhere.
    No wonder so few bother to vote. Our media give us little opportunity for political conversations.

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  12. samtheman (40 comments) says:

    Oh and David you don’t have “no influence over” the money donated on your behalf to a party. If you watch the clip you’ll see that you would have the right to at any time withdraw that money and give it to another candidate/party if you did not like how your original choice were acting.

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  13. Lance (3,830 comments) says:

    And all the union members are really keen on part of their subs going to a political party….. NOT

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  14. MT_Tinman (4,394 comments) says:

    No organisation that charges it’s members fees to perform a service should be able to use those fees for any other purpose.

    Not unions, not professional organisations, not your tennis/bowling/rugby club.

    In this case union fees should be used for the only purpose unions there for, the betterment and support of the members in employment related issues.

    Buying politicians is not one of these purposes.

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  15. Ed Snack (2,798 comments) says:

    Yoza, rubbish. Unions can & do contribute huge sums. Check this link http://www.opensecrets.org/orgs/list.php, it is for the USA, but look at the top donors. Five of the top 10 are unions, and what is even more interesting the companies are largely bi-partisan, donating more or less the same amount to both parties, whereas all unions lean to the democrats, most very heavily so (Municipal workers union [#3], 99% democrat, versus AT&T [#2] 55/44 Republican, but see Goldman Sachs [teh evil !], 60/39 Democrat).

    You can see why the Democrats so vociferously protested the SCOTUS decision that allowed companies to donate, those evil SOBs had the temerity to donate some money to the Republicans instead of giving it effectively all to the Democrats.

    In the UK the Labour party gets around 80% of its donations from the Unions, which would be in excess of 2.5 million pounds. To be fair the Conservatives get about twice the donations but I’m not sure of the split between individuals and companies, and this could reflect the latest election cycle where Labour had become particularly unpopular, so the ratio of donations may not usually be so skewed.

    So in NZ the sums aren’t quite the same, but Unions have ways to contribute other than through direct donations. They supply people at their expense for a wide range of political and campaigning tasks, something no business to my knowledge provides National or any other party.

    One reason why Unions donate so much could be that whereas businesses are not primarily political organizations, many unions are just that. Unions don’t have to be ultra-political, but in practice most are, as vehicles for the interests of the would-be politicians who run them. Businesses can (and sometimes do) look to legislation to provide them (and their shareholders) with specific returns, but that would be I suggest the exception as a specific aim. Unions see legislation as a major means of obtaining benefits (either direct monetary or through strengthened legal rights or negotiating grounds), and so are far more focused on politics.

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  16. mikenmild (23,671 comments) says:

    Well, if any union member objects to how their funds are spent, they can always leave the union. Union membership is not compulsory, you know.

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  17. Swampy (218 comments) says:

    Union membership is compulsory for those on a collective contract.

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  18. Yoza (3,053 comments) says:

    Ed, anyone who has read ‘The Hollow Men’, by Nicky Hager, can point out the funds provided by union contributions are paltry compared to those which are poured into the coffers of the National and ACT parties by those individuals and businesses who support the policies which those parties enact, policies which are not a long way from an agenda the Labour Party accepts. The reason concentrations of capital and foreign corporate donations are spread between the major political parties (and extremists like ACT) is to ensure a continuation of policies that augment their commercial goals. A similar paradigm exists in the US where major corporates hedge their bets by backing both main political organisations, ensuring a homogeneous decision making process regardless of who gains control of the levers of power.

    The other stick used to ensure the obedience of the targeted political landscape is the threat of capital flight. Quite simply, unions do not control the resources required to cause the level of damage private concentrations of wealth can ,and do, inflict on insubordinate economies. The best unions can do is attempt to influence the left-wing of the Labour Party in New Zealand and the Democrats in the US, and it is an influence they must fight tooth and claw to maintain as there are wealthy interests which are fighting to dominate those parties both here and there.

    If you look through the opensecrets site carefully you will see that the interests of the wealthy are far more financially dominant in both the Republican and Democrat parties than organised labour could ever hope to be.

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