Will Banks use the Cunliffe defence in court

Claire Trevett at NZ Herald writes:

On Tuesday, he buckled and revealed the names of three donors who had agreed to be named. A further two would not be named, and their donations will be returned to them. He said it was a lapse in judgment but done with the noble aims of respecting the donors’ wishes for secrecy and keeping Cunliffe at arm’s length from it all. Cunliffe claimed the latter aim was achieved – he had not known the identity of the donors. He also admitted at least one of them had approached him directly to offer a donation, but claimed he had referred that person on to the trustee, Greg Presland, so had not known for certain whether the donation ended up being made.

By this stage a neon sign with “John Banks” should have flared in his head. If Cunliffe’s 2013 donations were “historical”, what were Banks’ 2010 donations? And Banks, too, had argued his donation from Kim Dotcom was technically anonymous because his campaign manager had dealt with it after he was offered it, so he had not known for certain if it was made.

This is an interesting point. John Banks got rightly savaged for having the initial discussion with Dotcom over a donation, and then saying it was anonymous because he left the details to his campaign manager. This is what Cunliffe is now also claiming, so Banks in court can now get up and say Cunliffe did it also.

The question also arises as to how Cunliffe declared the donations to the Labour Party. Labour and Mr Cunliffe have both refused to say whether he declared the donations to the party individually, or as a lump sum from the trust. Presumably it was the latter, given Cunliffe has claimed not to know who the donors were. If so, it might not strictly be against the Labour Party’s own rules but it certainly isn’t in the spirit of them.

This is a very intriguing issue. The fact Labour will not say whether Cunliffe declared just the trust to them, or the individual donors, makes me very suspicious. I doubt Labour Head Office would have deemed it acceptable not to be told of the individual donors (in confidence).  But if they were told of the individual donors, then it means that Cunliffe has lied in saying he doesn’t know who they all were. The only possible way out from the contradiction is to do a Banks and claim he didn’t read the form his campaign manager signed.

If his disclosure to Labour did just name the trust, then they would confirm that to kill the story. I think they did disclose individual donors, and they are terrified at having to admit this because it would compromise their leader so badly.

Cunliffe is now talking about changing the rules to make the situation clearer. If any rules are to be changed, it should be those of the leadership contest, not the Register of Pecuniary Interests. Labour may be selecting its own leader, but it is also selecting the person who could be Prime Minister. No MP who is effectively auditioning to be Prime Minister should be exempt from disclosing donations simply because it is an “internal process”. If anything, it is a greater reason for disclosure.

Somehow I don’t think it is their own rules they will seek to change. If they get the numbers in Parliament, they’ll change the rules of the Register of Pecuniary Interests to exempt donations to leadership campaigns.

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