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Tuesday, March 28, 2023

‘They’re good for me, I’m good for them’: new research sheds light on what motivates political party donors in New Zealand

Proposed changes to New Zealand’s political donation rules highlight the charities who give thousands and the inspiration they have for their generosity. Our current research into New Zealand’s political donation system aims to shed light on this often ambiguous process.

Last year, more than NZ$2.73 million were donated to ten of New Zealand’s 15 registered political parties.

Current rules require public disclosure of any donations over $15,000. The government proposes to drop this public disclosure limit to $1,500 (a move opposed by both national and act parties).

Proposed reforms to political donation rules follow an office investigation of serious fraud in the handling of donations received by National, Labor and NZ First parties. All three investigations have resulted in court proceedings, in the first case the judge had reserved his decision.

Given the apparent confusion around transparency and the conflicting legal requirements, a fundamental question must be asked: Why do the wealthy in New Zealand donate to political parties?

inspiration for political donations

As part of our research on political donations, we have interviewed several party donors across the political spectrum.

We asked them why they donate, whether they expect any impact from their charity, and their thoughts on other features of the current system, such as the disclosure of their names and the size of their donations.

Read more: What do businesses get in return for their political donations?

Our interviewers weren’t concerned about transparency. After each was given over $30,000, their names were published online within ten days of their donation.

All accepted this transparency as an essential part of a democratic system. Some also believed that it had a positive effect, for example by encouraging others to donate.

New Zealand Flag In Front Of The Beehive
Three New Zealand political parties have been the subject of investigation by the Serious Fraud Office.
PA Thompson / Getty Images

Selfishness or public interest?

The reasons our interviewers donate are varied. Most invoked some desire to “participate”. Participation took different forms – from supporting a party that had the same value as the donor, to simply being part of the political process.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, academic research suggests that donations are expected to have political impact – although supporting existing policies is also a factor. But the donors we spoke to said they didn’t get additional impact as a result of their donation, nor did they seek it.

However, some precautions are in order. The fact that they were prepared to be interviewed by the researchers may suggest that our interviewers were more comfortable with their donation than with other donors.

Second, emphasizing that they did not achieve additional influence, others commented that some level of influence was the result of charity. One held talks with several prime ministers and party leaders, some of them directly involved with fundraising. For example, such figures went to the donor’s house for food.

Read more: New Zealand politics: how political donations can be reformed to reduce potential impact

Another donor said that making a large donation would give the opportunity to arrange a direct meeting. Even if the policy is not explicitly discussed in such contexts, donors and politicians are clearly building a close relationship.

These are situations in which the interests and beliefs of political leaders may be attracted to those of donors, especially since ordinary voters generally do not enjoy such privileges.

Some donors pointed to such closeness. One said, speaking of the party they donate to, “They are good to me, and I am good to them.”

Another admitted that while donations were made in selfishness, “self-interest is [seen as] The public interest.” That is, donors tend to rationalize actions designed to advance their own interests by arguing that it completely overlaps with the public interest, even though such correlation is warranted. far away from

Voting Symbol
Other electoral reforms beyond the donation rules are being proposed, and the Electoral Act is being reviewed.
Getty Images

Do our rules need to be strengthened?

Few would debate the process of regulating charity work, as evidenced by ongoing court cases. However, those cases were triggered by whistleblowers and not because of regulatory oversight in the first place. We cannot rely on whistleblowers to report all cases of alleged wrongdoing.

A number of electoral reforms are currently underway, including controversial changes to donation disclosure rules and a comprehensive independent review of the Electoral Act.

Read more: Money turns the world of politics around, and keeping it clean isn’t easy

With two more donation-related court cases coming up this year, there is mounting pressure to change the way political parties are funded.

Such reform appears to be necessary to create greater transparency about donations and to ensure that trust in Aotearoa New Zealand’s political funding system is not permanently destroyed.

World Nation News Desk
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