The Dotcom Banks donation

David Fisher reports:

Act leader John Banks asked for a $50,000 political donation to be split into two parts so it could be made anonymously, says Kim Dotcom and one other witness.

This is unusual, as splitting the donation has absolutely no impact on whether or not it can be anonymous. The level for disclosure is $1,000.

Dotcom said the request was made on April 15, 2010, when Mr Banks was preparing to campaign for the Auckland mayoralty.

He said there were at times three other people in the room while the donation was discussed – and Mr Banks rang later to thank him for it.

The allegation comes after police were asked to investigate Mr Banks’ listing of a $15,000 donation from SkyCity as “anonymous”.

I regard this allegation as far more serious than the Sky City one. As far as I know no one has suggested Banks knew personally of the Sky City donation, which allow him to declare it as anonymous.

If the allegations are correct and that Banks both solicited the donation, and was made aware of when it had been made, and then thanked the donor for it – well I find it hard to see how you can claim that “the candidate concerned does not know who made the donation”, which is the test in the Local Electoral Act.

The only wriggle room might be that if Banks did not know of the amount donated. He could claim he was aware of him being a donor but did not know how much, so hence for that specific donation did not know who made it. Personally I regard that as still being against the spirit of the law, but courts decide on the wording.

This again reinforces to me the need to have much tighter donation transparency requirements for local government elections.

Political candidates are required by law to declare donations if they know who made them. Failure to do so is punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment and up to a $10,000 fine.

A vacancy is automatically created if any MP is convicted of an offence punishable by two years or more, no matter what punishment they get.

In the case of Mr Banks, a conviction would place at risk his Epsom seat under the Electoral Act and force a byelection. The loss would leave the Government exposed, with its 59 votes in the 121-seat Parliament supplemented only by United Future’s one and the Maori Party’s three.

It is worth noting that a complaint has not yet been laid over the Dotcom donation, once it has it will then be referred to the Police, they will have to investigate and decide whether to lay charges, and if they do then it goes to a court to decide.

Based on their usual speed with electoral issues, this could take some time. If all this did happen and Banks was convicted, then I doubt the overall Government majority would be at risk, as National would win an Epsom by-election with ease.

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