Local body donations

The NZ Herald reports:

Labour MP Trevor Mallard has lodged an official complaint about Act leader John Banks failing to disclose a $15,000 donation was from SkyCity during his 2010 Auckland mayoralty campaign.

Mr Mallard lodged the complaint with the Auckland Council electoral officer this week. He also asked the electoral officer to scrutinise “anonymous” donations of radio advertising Mr Banks had included in his return.

SkyCity gave $15,000 each to Len Brown, now mayor, and Mr Banks, his rival, during that campaign.

Although Mr Brown’s donation return listed SkyCity as a donor, Mr Banks’ listed an anonymous donation of $15,000. It did not mention SkyCity.

The penalty for knowingly filing a false return is up to two years in prison or a fine of up to $10,000.

There is a lesser penalty of a $5000 fine if the candidate did not know it was false. MPs convicted of crimes with a penalty of two years or more can not remain in Parliament.

However, Mr Banks said he was not concerned about the complaint, dismissing it as Mr Mallard “up to his old timeless tricks”.

He said he had not known at the time that the donation was from SkyCity and his donations return was accurate as at the date he signed it.

“I signed the document at the said time to the best of my knowledge.” …

Asked how it was that Mayor Brown had known about the SkyCity donation yet he had not, the Act leader said his campaign accountants had dealt with the finances for his campaign and he had based his return on the information they gave him.

Asked if it was possible they had known the donation was from SkyCity, he said it was.

Auckland Council’s electoral officer, Bruce Thomas, said he would consider the complaint and decide whether to refer it to police.

It has been referred to the Police, but that in itself is not of significance. Local electoral officers are basically required to refer every complaint to the Police. The WCC referred to the Police a complaint from a Councillor that I had linked to his official profile without his permission! Yes, seriously.

Anyway let us look at what the Local Electoral Act 2001 says. You need to be aware that it is very different to the Electoral Act, which is much much tighter in terms of donation disclosure.

anonymous, in relation to an electoral donation (as defined in section 104), means a donation that is made in such a way that the candidate concerned does not know who made the donation

So the Act says it is only the candidate who needs to now know the identity. Again this is different from the Electoral Act.

electoral donation, in relation to a candidate at an election, means a donation (whether of money or the equivalent of money or of goods or services or of a combination of those things) of a sum or value of more than $1,000 (such amount being inclusive of any goods and services tax and of a series of donations made by or on behalf of any one person that aggregate more than $1,000) made to the candidate, or to any person on the candidate’s behalf, for use by or on behalf of the candidate in the campaign for his or her election

So a donation of $15,000 definitely qualified.

S109(1) states:

Within 55 days after the day on which the successful candidates at any election are declared to be elected, every candidate at the election must transmit to the electoral officer a return setting out—

  • (a)the candidate’s electoral expenses; and

  • (b)the name and address of each person who made an electoral donation to the candidate and the amount of each electoral donation; and

  • (c)if an electoral donation of money or of the equivalent of money is made to the candidate anonymously and the amount of that donation exceeds $1,000,—

    • (i)the amount of that donation; and

    • (ii)the fact that it has been received anonymously.

So if the candidate knows who made the donation, then they must supply a name and address, while if they do not, just the amount and the fact it was anonymous.

So the test for the Police is simply did John Banks know Sky City donated $15,000 to his campaign. Unless there is proof that he did know (a meeting, e-mails etc), then I can’t see the complaint has any chance of succeeding.

Personally I think the Local Electoral Act should be updated to have similar transparency requirements to the Electoral Act. This would mean:

  • Anonymous donations to a candidate could not exceed $1,500
  • a donation is anonymous where a candidate “could not, in the circumstances, reasonably be expected to know the identity of the donor”

But that is not the current law for local government donations. So I see a very small possibility of the Police taking action.

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