Sense from The Press

May 12th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

editorial:

There was something both a little overwrought and naive about the attempt last week to drum up a fuss about the fact that some people had paid large sums to attend functions at which they would have the opportunity to meet and talk to politicians. All political parties put strenuous effort into raising money to keep themselves going and those efforts reach a peak in the period leading up to an election. To try to convert perfectly legitimate fundraising into something more sinister shows a view of the rough trade of politics that is touching but wildly unrealistic.

The ruckus was manufactured out of the publicising of the entirely unsurprising fact that the National Party has been running events which donors pay to attend and socialise with Government ministers. It became even sillier with the reporting of a perfectly ordinary Wellington event organised by a prominent National Party fundraiser that gathered (and properly reported) $45,000 for the party. It was suggested that the fact that Prime Minister John Key was there with his chief of staff somehow turned his presence into an official appearance and amounted to using his office to support the party.

That was probably the most farcical aspect of the Green inspired hysteria (which is designed to get compulsory taxpayer funding of political parties). The PM has two parliamentary offices – the Office of the PM and the Office of the National Party Parliamentary Leader. The chief of staff heads up both, and to say this his attendance at a fundraiser means it is an official appearance is farcical.

This is nonsense. Using high-ranking politicians and ministers as bait at fundraising events is practised by all political parties. As the Prime Minister and others have pointed out, the Labour Party at its last conference in Christchurch offered one-on-one meetings with its MPs for a hefty fee. It is perfectly legitimate and dubbing it “cash for access” and calling it a scam does not make it any less so.

Yet the Greens are silent on Labour selling one on one meetings with MPs. I don’t have a problem with them doing so, but the hypocrisy is massive – they decry MPs attending fundraising breakfasts and lunches – yet say it is fine for their own MPs to be pimped out for one on one meetings in return for a fee.

It is not as though there is anything exclusive in the practice. New Zealand members of Parliament, including ministers, are extraordinarily accessible and open to meeting anyone. Those who pay money to meet politicians are doing so not because the encounter bestows any particular benefit on them but because they are showing support for those of a like-minded political disposition.

Exactly. There isn’t a democracy in the world where politicians don’t attend fundraising functions.

There is, moreover, nothing wrong with ministers having general discussions about political issues at such gatherings. In fact, the more views politicians and ministers hear before they frame policy the better. Even if an individual is able to bend a minister’s ear about some policy or other, the policy must still make it through the meatgrinder of the political process where a thousand other voices are added to the outcome.

“Cash for access” is very far from “cash for favours”, of which New Zealand is blessedly free. New Zealand politicians are undeniably the least corrupt in the world and to suggest scams where none exist is mudslinging for no useful purpose.

The purpose is to get taxpayer funding of political parties, so parties no longer have to worry about relying on their own supporters.

To keep things above board, though, it is important that there is as much openness about what goes on as possible. Some donors to political parties, while willing to part with their cash to support their party of choice, come over all bashful about having their support publicly known. And both major parties unfortunately have been willing to indulge them in their shyness. Parties must declare the gifts they have received, but even after two rewrites of electoral finance law in the last decade it is still possible for an individual to gift up to $15,000 without revealing his or her identity.

I thought the previous limit of $10,000 was about right. Labour incidentally voted for the level to go up to $15,000. But still put that in perspective – $15,000 is less than 1% of the cost of a major party’s election campaign. It may be quite a lot of money to an individual, but it isn’t a lot of money to a major party.

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15 Responses to “Sense from The Press”

  1. mjw (225 comments) says:

    This wouldn’t be an issue if National had kept its nose clean.

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  2. Cunningham (817 comments) says:

    mjw (106 comments) says:

    “This wouldn’t be an issue if National had kept its nose clean.”

    No this wouldn’t be an issue if we had a decent opposition and press. Both have really let themselves down big time with this whole ‘issue’ they have dreamed up.

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  3. davidp (3,540 comments) says:

    >The purpose is to get taxpayer funding of political parties, so parties no longer have to worry about relying on their own supporters.

    Apart from gym owners, we know that the biggest funders of the Green Party are their own MPs. So if they manage to force taxpayer funding of political parties then their MPs get to keep more of their own salary. Now THAT is corrupt. And I bet they didn’t declare that potential personal benefit while they were lobbying like mad last week.

    I’d be happy to pay $1000 for a day of Russel Norman’s time. I’d make him wear a clown suit, and force him to spend the day standing on Lambton Quay holding a sign saying “I have been a very bad clown”.

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  4. BeaB (2,058 comments) says:

    I wonder if Cunliffe and wife are racing round doing a ‘do-down’ so we can see the squalor in which they live on Campbell tonight. Ripping off wallpaper, rolling up the Persian rugs, the Sallies truck in the drive off-loading furniture, savs for tea.

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  5. dishy (224 comments) says:

    It’s evident that neither the Greens nor Labour care one bit about being hypocrites and being called hypocrites. They’ve correctly picked that the MSM will give them a gentle ride on those fronts.

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  6. Pete George (22,845 comments) says:

    Cunliffe wants public funding too.

    Cunliffe: Let’s consider publicly-funded elections

    David Cunliffe believes it’s time to consider publicly-funded elections.

    It comes in the wake of revelations about National’s Cabinet Club and fundraising practices by all parties.

    The Labour leader says it’s time to have a conversation.

    “There’s a trade off to be made between investing more taxpayers funding in the political process to guarantee fairness and democracy on the one hand and making sure that every dollar is well and prudently spent.”

    http://www.newstalkzb.co.nz/auckland/news/nbpol/174175107-cunliffe–let-s-consider-publicly-funded-elections

    I would have thought that coming in to an election campaign is the silliest time to have a conversation about funding parties for their campaigns.

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  7. bringbackdemocracy (394 comments) says:

    BeaB re. Cunliffs “savs for tea”

    It will be savs for Cunliffe and Campbell and red-soup for the Missus and the kids.

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  8. chris (567 comments) says:

    So if political parties are funded by the taxpayer*, how is it decided how much they get? And how do new parties get funding?

    (* I am completely opposed to taxpayer funded political parties.)

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  9. Ross12 (1,149 comments) says:

    This is a little dated but I would think the main points are still relevant.

    Bryce Edwards on the Green Party funding

    http://liberation.typepad.com/liberation/2008/10/political-fin-1.html#more

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  10. Kimble (4,379 comments) says:

    … how is it decided how much they get?

    Depends.

    Is it a National or Labour/Greens Government?

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  11. Auberon (869 comments) says:

    The revolting thing for me was the degree to which TV3 was prepared to be the Greens’ stooge, lapping up the Green lines without any critical queries and then going out and running them for the Greens without first identifying to the people they approached the basis for asking them questions.

    That’s simply not journalism. It’s infotainment.

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  12. johnwellingtonwells (121 comments) says:

    A Labour electorate could always invite Gerry Brownlee to give a speech at one of their fund raising events. There is nothing in the rules to stop them

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  13. James Stephenson (2,033 comments) says:

    That’s simply not journalism. It’s infotainment.

    The word you’re looking for is “advertorial”…

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  14. Keeping Stock (10,100 comments) says:

    It’s odd that after a week complaining about a cash-for-access scandal, David Cunliffe, David Parker, Phil Goff and Jacinda Ardern participated in one at the weekend; a fundraiser for Botany Labour

    https://www.facebook.com/botany.labour

    It’s also telling that a couple of the other posts on the Botany Labour FB page resort to petty, childish name-calling; Jami-Lee Ross becomes “Jammy-Lea”, and John Key is renamed “John Pinokeyo Key”. I don’t know who the administrator of this page for a branch of the New Zealand Labour Party is, but their childish behaviour does the party, or Botany candidate Tofik Mamedov no favours whatsoever.

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  15. itstricky (1,563 comments) says:

    That was probably the most farcical aspect of the Green inspired hysteria

    I’m not sure where the hysteria is. If anything it’s here in your posts. I mean this has hardly been in the paper at all. Unlike Collins and Williamson, for example. First poster right. Wouldn’t have been an issue otherwise – you seem to be blowing it out of proportion.

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