Will Cunliffe’s donations be revealed?

The Herald reports:

Labour leader used an “agent arrangement” to take donations to his leadership campaign last November and is refusing to say whether he has disclosed individual donors in the MPs’ register of financial interests or whether they were disclosed as being from a trust.

This sounds too ironic to be true. Surely the “agent” wasn’t one of those secretive trusts that Labour has spent almost a decade railing against and legislated against?

The returns for the Register of Pecuniary Interests were due last Friday, and Mr Cunliffe said his return met both the rules of the register, which requires disclosure of donations of more than $500, and those of the Labour Party, which said all donations would be confidential.

He refused to say how he had met both rules, or whether he had declared donations as being from a trust rather than the original donors.

But he confirmed his campaign was run through an “agent arrangement” rather than taking donations directly. He sought a legal opinion before filing his return and defended the use of trusts.

What this means is that the Leader of the Labour Party used a trust so that we will never know who paid for his leadership campaign – despite Parliament’s Standing Orders requiring all donations of over $500 to be disclosed.

The stench of hypocrisy is massive.

“In the event donations are made to a trust, the trustee will have information about donations which a candidate or campaign team won’t have. So [if] there is a trust involved, it will be the donations of the trust to the campaign that are declared, as per the rules. If there is a trust, trustees owe obligations of confidentiality.”

But who decided to set up a trust? The purpose of the trust was to defeat the transparency requirements of Parliament’s Standing Orders.

I’m also not convinced that Cunliffe can refuse to name his donors, eve if it went through a trust. If he is aware of the ultimate source of the donations, you can argue Standing Orders require him to disclose – or risk a privilege complaint.

Of his rivals for the job, Shane Jones said he had disclosed all donations of more than $500, and the donors, and Grant Robertson said he did not receive any individual donations of more than $500.

So Jones and Robertson have disclosed – it is only their leader hiding behind a trust to protect his personal donors.

In 2005, Labour changed electoral finance rules to stop National filtering large anonymous donations through trusts. Grants made through a trust must now be disclosed separately if larger than the disclosable limit of $15,000 to a party or $1500 for an individual candidate.

Mr Cunliffe said there was “nothing at all” to embarrass him in his return.

That’s because it seems the return will just reveal the trust, and not the actual donors.

Mr Cunliffe also said Labour was likely to raise the issue with the standing orders committee, a cross-party group of MPs which decides on the rules for the register.

“It’s quite clear that having primary-style elections is new and not something that has been explicitly foreseen before in the register rules. It does raise a number of legal technicalities over the match between internal party rules and the rules of the standing orders.

“It would be better for everybody if they were aligned.”

The party can align its rules with standing orders if it so wishes, and drop the confidentially clause around donations. I can only presume that what Cunliffe is proposing is that standing orders be amended to allow Labour leadership candidates in future not to reveal donations to their leadership campaigns.

If any Labour MP or candidate now tries to campaign on better electoral finance transparency laws, they’re going to be laughed at.

UPDATE: Idiot/Savant at No Right Turn comments:

So, as usual, he’s claiming that it was All Within The Rules. But that’s not enough – his behaviour needs to be ethical as well. And by failing to tell us who he owes political debts to for financing his leadership ambitions, David Cunliffe has clearly failed that test and is unfit to be in Parliament, let alone a party leader.

UPDATE2: In 2008 Cunliffe said in Parliament:

Gee, the irony of that man impugning this Government on money issues will not be lost on Kiwis. He is the millionaire that Merrill built, the son of the “Hollow Man”, taking on the Government about transparency. Why does he not tell that to the millionaire brokers of the Waitemata Trust or the millionaire sponsors of the Exclusive Brethren? We believe in one person, one vote; not one dollar, one vote. We do not believe that elections should be bankrolled by big business, which is why the Electoral Finance Act is in place.

So he attacks people using trusts to hide the source of their donations in Parliament, yet uses the same device himself to hide the source of personal donations to his leadership campaign.

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