When Jami-Lee Ross re-enacted the Joker’s “everything burns” scene from The Dark Knight in his press conference at parliament, much was promised. Simon Bridges, we were told, had instructed him to divide up a $100,000 donation from a businessman into smaller, non-disclosable amounts. If established, that was not only the end of Bridges’ political career, but also the basis for potentially serious criminal charges.
Yep. We were told Bridges is corrupt and he had proof.
Then, yesterday, Ross’s story changed at his press conference after visiting the police. This money had not actually been divided up by him personally (because, we should note, if Ross had done so then he would have been guilty of those potentially serious criminal charges). Rather, the donation had appeared in his electorate bank account already split into these smaller, non-disclosable amounts.
That raised the question, of course, as to who had done the splitting up. Because Ross had stated in his original parliamentary press conference that the businessman in question had done nothing wrong. Which would not be true if that businessman had been a party to the donation splitting.
Then Ross released his recorded conversation with Bridges, and things changed again. For that recording showed that while Bridges clearly had knowledge of a donation being in the offing, he didn’t seem to know much more about it than that.
Yep. All the tape showed is that Simon knew $100,000 had been donated.
To me, this reads as though the businessman has told Bridges that the association he heads would like to support the National Party. The members of this association have then come together and chipped in individual donations that in total amount to $100,000, but none of which individually exceed the $15,000 public disclosure threshold. And that is all entirely legal.
It also would be legal for Bridges to indicate to (or even instruct) the association that he’d like the donation given in this way. It’s only if the businessman has funded the entire $100,000 amount himself, while getting friends and colleagues to transmit bits of it under their own name as “straw” donors, that the law would have been broken. But then the main party to that offending would be the businessman involved – whom, remember, Ross has said has done nothing wrong.
That is my understanding also. A group of people all made donations under the $15,000 level. So the businessman named didn’t himself make a $100,000 donation. He arranged for $100,000 to be donated.
If the other people were not donating their own money, but acting as fronts for the businessman, that would be illegal. But no law against someone encouraging other people to donate to a political party. In fact it is common.
So, based on what I’ve seen so far, I actually hope Bridges survives this onslaught and remains National’s leader. I hope that he and his party are soon able to return to arguing for their view of what New Zealand ought to be. I then hope they lose those arguments, because I disagree with them on many issues in a quite fundamental way. But I want them to lose on the arguments, not because of tactics designed to do no more than “wreck” someone.
I agree. Politics should not be about this.