First of all, no-one is accusing Cosgrove of accepting a bribe from Independent Fisheries – at least, they are not doing so out loud. Both Cosgrove and the company adamently deny there was any connection between his introduction of a members bill that would financially help the company (as well as a number of other constituents) and its later decision to donate money to his campaign. Not only is this most probably true in fact, the dual denial means that there is no way of proving it to be false.
Personally I don’t think that there was a pre-condition on the donation.
Second, Cosgrove quite rightly declared the $17,500 in donations to the Electoral Commission – from which we all then were able to find out about the relationship a couple of months ago. True, this action tells against any corrupt relationship existing in fact; you’d have to be a pretty silly (or incredibly brazen) person to openly tell the world that you’ve accepted a chunk of money which was paid to you in exchange for trying to get a change in the law. But the point of declaring donations is to let us make those sorts of judgments about what may or may not have been the motives on each side – if we were to say that simply declaring a donation automatically means that, ipso facto, there cannot be a corrupt intent behind it, then that would have a rather perverting effect on the disclosure regime!
Exactly – this is why we have transparency – so people can judge for themselves if they think there is a connection between donations and (for example) specific policies or acts.
Which brings us once again to the third level of protection. What does the decision to accept a considerable donation from a long-term friend whom you have, in your official capacity as an MP, taken steps to help in a quite significant fashion say about Cosgrove’s internal sense of political morality? By this I mean, what does it say about his ability to scrutinise not only his own motives for taking the money, but also understand how taking that money would look to others? And here I mean not those political enemies who would like to see him taken down, but rather the “average voter” who is assessing the behaviour of her or his political masters? Is it a “good look” to them for an MP to be in this sort of relationship, even if all involve protest the purist of motives?
This is the point I made yesterday. Wise MPs do not lobby on behalf of mates, do not push private legislation that provides significant financial benefits to their mates, and do not then accept large donations from a mate whose financial interests would have benefited from your advocacy.
One last point. I note that Cosgrove is alleging that this story has been “shopped around” by Gerry Brownlee in an effort to distract from a court case being brought by Independent Fisheries against his use of CERA powers to rezone their land. That may well be true. And that case also may well reveal what some of us said from the outset – giving Brownlee or any other Minister extensive powers to override existing property rights and legal processes in order to “help Canterbury” carries considerable risks of their misuse.
However, the motives for drawing attention to Cosgrove’s relationship with Independent Fisheries do not touch on its basic rightness or wrongness. Or, to put it another way, the problem isn’t so much that people are noticing the donation to Cosgrove, but rather that the donation was given and accepted in the first place.
It shows how defensive Cosgrove is on this issue, that he is trying to shift attention by alleging that the story has been shopped around by National. The Nation have confirmed that they have had no contact with Gerry Brownlee’s office on this, and the first I know what the story was about was watching The Nation.
The ironic thing is there is an MP who is known to do smear campaigns about donations – even when there haven’t been any. That MP may be behind this “smear campaign” also. It is a Mr Clayton Cosgrove. Back in June 2008 he said:
On June 3, Mr Cosgrove received a letter from a member of the Institute which indicates that deals have been done between some senior industry members and the National Party to wind back this consumer protection legislation. “The letter said the REINZ president Murray Cleland recently told members at a regional AGM that if the National Party won the election it is likely to change the legislation to suit the Institute,” he said.Mr Cosgrove said this raises serious questions over what deals have been done. “The National Party has confirmed it has met with REINZ representatives so now it needs to come clean on when this happened, who was present and what promises were made. National should tell us if any election campaign funds have been solicited or received by the Party, its MPs and/or its candidate, and whether any contributions have been made by REINZ and/or its member companies,” he said.
So when National advocated something, Clayton went out there and effectively alleged they were doing it due to donations from REINZ or its members (something that in fact was not true – he just made it up, and posed it as a question), while in this case the donation is a matter of record.
But to get this clear, the media asking Clayton questions about a donation from a property company which would have received huge financial benefits from legislation he proposed is a smear campaign, but him alleging National is in the pocket of the real estate industry (whom did not donate to National) is not a smear campaign. It is only wrong if it is not Labour doing it.