Below is a letter I sent to the Electoral Commission earlier this week. Labour often go on about the need for transparency over political donations, so I hope they will co-operate in determining who the mystery donor is.
I write regarding the Campaign for Change which has been the subject of numerous news stories in the last week.
The specific issues I wish the Electoral Commission to consider is whether the reported donation to the Campaign for Change should be regarded as a donation to Labour and if over $30,000 reported within 10 working days.
I also would like considered whether any of the expenses incurred by the Coalition for Change should be treated as expenses by Labour, if they fall within the regulated period.
The Campaign for Change announced their existence on 17 June (http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PO1706/S00237/new-zealand-launches-campaign-for-change.htm) as a non-partisan campaign to change the Government. It claimed to be independent of any political party. There is considerable evidence this is not the case.
As far as I can tell the Campaign for Change is not a legal entity in the form of an incorporated society or company. There is no information on whether it has rules, members, a bank account etc. It may simply be a slogan. Other names used such as Movement for Change or Coalition for Change are not registered either. One document refers to a Movement for Change Ltd but the Companies Office has no company of that name.
There is a lot of evidence that the campaign was a campaign on behalf of the Labour Party. The evidence is:
- The 85 “interns” were recruited from overseas as a “Labour Campaign Fellowship” with the aim of “a Labour victory in New Zealand’s most important city, Auckland”
- The interns were told to apply to two Labour Party staff members – Caitlin Johnson and Kieran O’Halloran
- The campaign was seemingly organised by Matt McCarten while he was a paid staff member of the Labour Parliamentary Office
- One of the purposes of the campaign was “recruits and supports volunteers for Labour electorate campaigns” (https://www.scribd.com/document/351981366/Labour-Intern-Scheme)
- One intern refers to “my work here for the Labour Party” (https://commons.marymount.edu/global/2017/06/19/extravagant-week-one-for-the-international-newbie/)
- Another intern quotes a letter from the Labour Party saying “We would like you to come over here and spend approx. 50% of your time making films – such as films for politicians, films about the fellowship, films about the ground campaign here.” and he says “I will be the first person within the program who has been offered a position to film short videos and documentaries of the ground campaign that the Labour Party (a sister party of the Democratic Party here in America) does to get people to go out and vote. (https://www.gofundme.com/nzlabour)
- A third intern wrote (screenshot attached) that they will “intern for the NZ Labour Party Campaign” and “have the opportunity to work for Helen White” (Labour’s Auckland Central Candidate)
- The Labour Party General Secretary has taken over responsibility for the interns and their activities
It seems abundantly clear that this activity was organised over many months by Labour Party staff and office holders to help Labour’s campaign. Just calling themselves a Campaign for Change doesn’t affect the substance of what they were doing, which is campaigning for Labour and Labour candidates.
The Campaign was estimated by the organisers to cost between $178,000 and $240,000.
Mr McCarten is quoted by the Herald (http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11881250) that the campaign was funded by a private funder. If this private funder has donated over $30,000 then this may need to be disclosed within 10 working days.
I note that the definition of a “party donation” in the Electoral Act is of money or the equivalent of goods and services (such as paying for marae accommodation for workers) and “is made to a party, or to any person or body of persons on behalf of the party who are involved in the administration of the affairs of the party”.
In order to have public confidence that the Electoral Act can’t be undermined by having donations to benefit a political party done through some sort of unofficial campaign group, I think the Electoral Commission should write to Mr McCarten and the Labour Party and seek details of the donation so a determination can be made whether or not it is a “party donation” that has to be disclosed.
Key details that would be useful in helping make such a determination would be the identity of the donor, whose bank account was it paid into, who has control of that bank account, what has it been spent on, and what correspondence exists between the donor and the recipient/s as to the purpose of the donation.
Related to this is the need to determine if any of the activities undertaken by the interns in exchange for accommodation and meals may constitute either party or candidate expenses under the Electoral Act. The fact that one intern said they would be working for a Labour Party candidate and another said they would be producing films for politicians suggests they could well qualify.
Of course, compliance with the Electoral Act expenses provisions can only be determined once the expense returns are submitted. But it would be beneficial to seek clarification at an earlier stage so no electoral laws are broken.
Thank you for your consideration of this matter.
A separate issue to this is any investigation by The Parliamentary Service into how Matt McCarten was setting this all up while employed by them.