Political donations

Henry Cooke writes:

Over half of major political donations come from wealthy individuals able to splash out $15,000 or more, new research shows.

Fully 52 percent of the money from donations over $1500 in 2011-2016 came in chunks of $15,000 or more. Donations under $1500 aren’t declared, but aren’t thought to make up a significant percentage of party funding given the small population of New Zealand.

This is not correct in the case of National.

National has around 30,000 to 40,000 paid up members. If the average member donation is $50 (I think it is in fact higher than that) then small donations bring in over $1.5 million a year in income.

Journalist and academic Max Rashbrooke put together the numbers for a report on open government being released on Tuesday. He thinks that the donations clearly buy some kind of influence.

“If parties are reliant on very wealthy people for half of their donations, then they aren’t going to ignore them are they? I think it must lead to influence for at least a certain class of people,” Rashbrooke said.

Rashbrooke falls into the trap of thinking of donors as a class, rather than a collection of individuals and businesses. Donors have very varied interests – most just want a Government that delivers a good strong economy.

Someone who donates say $15,000 to National is donating around 0.5% of their campaign funding. The good thing with having lots of big donors, is that none of them become particularly influential.

“We are very sceptical of politics and politicians usually. It would be very strange if we were all of a sudden naive and assume these people are just giving money as a public service or because they really like the party.”

They like the policies. They think the policies are good for the country and good for them. In my experience money follows policies, not the other way around.

While the general public often think about donations in terms of trade unions and industry lobby groups, Rashbrooke said the vast majority of funding comes from individual donors.

Unions are large and active donors on the left. Very very few business and industry groups donate to political parties. Individual businesses may not their industry groups.

National is overwhelmingly the largest recipient of donations, raising $11.7m over the six years between 2011 and 2016, almost three times Labour’s $3.9m. But just 22 percent of their funds come from donations of over $15,000.

Yep, and that is 22% of the donations over $1,500. I’d say National probably had another $10 million from small donors in that time, so donors over $15,000 probably contribute just 10% of the party’s income.

Large donations are not necessary for success and certainly do not guarantee it.

The Internet Party and the Conservatives both raised more than the Greens and Labour over the period, but neither have MPs in Parliament.

And New Zealand First – who raised the least by far over the period, just $319,000 – are polling on level with the Greens and are widely seen as “kingmakers” in the next Parliament.

Money helps. You’d rather have more of it than less of it. But as the article says it doesn’t have as big an influence as people think. People have to be receptive to the message for advertisements to work – no matter how often they play.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said his party delivered more with less.

“New Zealand First has the most professional presentation and efficient delivery of party policies, which belies the fact we don’t have a substantial amount of donations.”

Of course in the past New Zealand First has received substantial donations – they just didn’t disclose them until the donations were outed!

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