Something for nothing

A friend once spent a considerable sum buying absolutely nothing.

It was one of the lots at a fundraising auction for a charity he supports. He has everything he needs and the idea of bidding on absolutely nothing appealed to his sense of humour.

While I’ve seen anyone buy absolutely nothing I have watched people pay a lot more for something that it’s worth in aid of a good cause. Often they’ve bought tickets for a meal beforehand and paid far more for them than the meal itself cost. They might also have bought raffle tickets too. 

All of this is really a donation but if the worthy cause is a political party, would it count as one which needs to be declared?

If there was a set price for tickets to the function and raffles it wouldn’t. I think the same applies to an auction because, although there wouldn’t be a set price, the buyer gets something in return and, as with the meal and raffle, GST is payable on the money received. If I’m correct – and I’m not 100% I am – it would be a very simple, and legal, way to get round a donations limit.

I don’t understand the preoccupation with knowing the identity of donors of sums well below an amount that could possibly be regarded as likely to buy favours. A lot of people don’t have a very high regard for politicians but the idea that an MP, or government, could be swayed by donations of a few thousand dollars is ludicrous.

In spite of this there are calls for very low or no limits on anonymous donations from people concerned about transparency over money donated to political parties. To support their concerns they’ve pointed out that declared donations to Labour and National were well below the amounts they spent at last year’s elections.

But that overlooks the money which comes from membership and fund raising activity which doesn’t have to be declared.

I’ve no idea where Labour got its money but having been an electorate chair for National I know that a lot of small donations and some fund raising functions supported by a lot of members and supporters can come to a very tidy sum.  The people who contribute in this way are, like the friend at the auction, giving something for nothing more than the satisfaction of helping a cause they believe in.

10 Responses to Something for nothing

  1. Deborah says:

    I don’t understand the preoccupation with knowing the identity of donors of sums well below an amount that could possibly be regarded as likely to buy favours. A lot of people don’t have a very high regard for politicians but the idea that an MP, or government, could be swayed by donations of a few thousand dollars is ludicrous.

    This does rather beg the question of exactly what amount you need to spend in order to buy influence. Care to specify a sum, Ele? 🙂

    I’d settle for a disclosure limit of say, $1,000 per natural person per year. Donations channeled via trusts and companies should be traced back to natural persons, or listed companies (but not unlisted or private companies – we should “see through” unlisted and private companies to get to the natural persons making decisions about political donations). There would no doubt be some issues around the edges w.r.t. tracing donations back, but if it can be done in tax law, there’s no reason that it can’t be done for this law.

    I think it needs to be “per person, per year” to avoid individual donors making say 10 donations $9,999 each (based on the proposed disclosure limit of $10,000).

  2. gravedodger says:

    I have commented previously and nobody has been able to answer that I am aware of. Take a dedicated enthusiastic voter who is at present living on a benefit but in possession of very good administration skills and chooses to work for no income in support of the election of their favoured political party for say 100 hours a week for 10 weeks. The value of that to a party could be as high as 25 – 30 thousand dollars in monetary terms and possibly much more in real terms. Another voter just as dedicated and enthusiastic but already working 100 a week to maintain a business in a profitable situation and chooses to give
    $10 000 to the party that in the moguls opinion represents the best option for the future political direction of the country,
    The first person portrayed is regarded as a political junkie and the value of the contribution is not counted while the second person is vilified as one trying to subvert the political process and laws are enacted to proscribe or prevent the donation of his/her own money.
    Can anyone explain why the larger contribution is not counted and there is much preoccupation with the second.

  3. homepaddock says:

    Deborah – Honourable people wouldn’t be bought at all, of course, but if everyone was honourable we needn’t need laws.

    Stephen Franks: http://www.stephenfranks.co.nz/?p=1887 said MPs agreed about $50,000.

    I think $10,000 is sufficiently below that to be okay.

    I agree that whatever the limit is it has to be per person(or organisation) per year or people would, as you say, get round it by making multiple donations below the limit.

    GD – the only answer I have to your question is that people value money more than voluntary labour.

  4. Sus says:

    Grave makes an excellent point.

    AFAIC, it’s nobody’s business which party I choose to support, if at all. None. Nor is it any of mine as to the next person’s choice.

    And nor should there be any public funding of political parties. It’s obscene for say, a Green supporter to be supporting, via taxation, the ACT party or vice versa.

    If a party’s ideas are good enough, their supporters will put their hands in their pockets.

    And if they’re not or they don’t, too bad.

  5. homepaddock says:

    Sus – You get my vote on this. If a party can get enough from its own supporters it doesn’t need public funding and if it can’t it doesn’t deserve it.

    Either way, public funding of political parties is misuse of taxpayers’ money.

  6. Deborah says:

    Gravedigger, I wonder if one difference lies in the control, or lack of control, over the gift. A person who gives labour makes a fresh decision to do that every time she turns up to do some work for the party. She can withdraw her gift at anytime. And she can also be identified, by anyone who cares to drop into the party office, or attend party events, or whatever. She can’t be an anonymous donor, either inside or outside of the party, even ‘though she may be low profile.

    However someone who gives money loses control over that money. The party can deploy that money wherever it likes, and it can direct it to where it is most usefully employed. So maybe it gives political parties more power when they get money.

    Importantly, as our law stands at present, a money donor can be anonymous. And that carries overtones of backroom deals, manipulation and so on. I’m not against people giving money to political parties, at all. However I am against anonymous donations, because of the possibility of manipulation.

  7. Deborah says:

    Ooops! Gravedodger, not Gravedigger. Sorry, gd.

  8. gravedodger says:

    Your points are accepted Deborah but the lack of accountability in the total of donations of labour and similar versus the glare of publicity on monetary contributions leaves me supporting a reduction in the arbitary limits on financial support. In a socially intimate and free society such as ours with a free media most attempts to bring the influence of money to bear is most likely to backfire unless the timing and the potential lack of media action could still cause a failure to bring the result desired in the framing of law. I suggest the illfated “support” from the E B and the pledge card (warned against by the A G ) as examples in support of my arguments.

  9. Deborah says:

    Hmmm…. we possibly agree about more than we think we do, gd. I’m not keen on limits on the amount of support, but I do want transparency. So I advocate a very low disclosure level ($1,000). Give what you like, but do it openly, under your own name, and not shielded through companies and trusts. Or unions, for that matter.

  10. homepaddock says:

    “we possibly agree about more than we think we do,”

    I think we do – no, or high limits on how much people can give, but greater transparency, sounds okay to me.

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