March 5, 2014

David Cunliffe’s many mistakes over the use of a trust to hide donations to help  his leadership campaign have provided his opponents with the opportunity to accuse him of all sorts of things, including hypocrisy.

Probably none relishes this more keenly than John Banks who can be forgiven for more than a wee bit of schadenfreude:

ACT MP John Banks labelled Mr Cunliffe and former leader David Shearer, who initially failed to declare an overseas bank account, as hypocrites.

“These are the same people who paraded in the house as paragons of virtue and railed against me day after day, week after week and month after month. They should look at themselves – these people are hypocrites.” . . .

Duncan Garner also employs the h word:

. . . David Cunliffe is a former high-flying business consultant – his wife is a top lawyer – they know how these things work. His friends are business people. His wife knew about it and kept all this secret. How on earth did she think they were going to get away with this approach? Their collective judgement on this is woeful.

Where was he when Labour rallied against National’s use of trusts to fund its many elections campaigns? It’s why Labour changed the law and brought in the Electoral Finance Law. Was he not in the Parliament at the time? No, he was there. Did he speak up against National’s use of secret trusts? Oh yes he did.

Labour politicians of all shapes and sizes criticised National for months for receiving secret money. Cunliffe was in there, boots-‘n’-all. Trevor Mallard went further and claimed there was a ‘secret American bag-man.’ It was never proved.

I’ll never forget Labour climbing into National over electoral finances. Now Cunliffe looks like a complete hypocrite despite the apology. National has every right to pile into him on this. Just like Labour piled into National over secret trusts and campaign donations.

I’m starting to wonder just who Cunliffe is. What does he stand for? Is he anti-business or pro-business? Does he care about the poor? Or hang out with the rich? My big question really is this: Who is the real David Cunliffe?

Is he a fake?

That’s an f word no politician can afford to have directed at them, especially when more than half his caucus will also be feeling more than a wee bit of  schadenfreude.

Trusts, trust and transparency

March 3, 2014

Labour leader David Cunliffe is in the news for the wrong reasons again:

Labour leader David Cunliffe used an “agent arrangement” to take donations to his leadership campaign last November and is refusing to say whether he has disclosed individual donors in the MPs’ register of financial interests or whether they were disclosed as being from a trust.

It will be one or the other, why won’t he say which?

The returns for the Register of Pecuniary Interests were due last Friday, and Mr Cunliffe said his return met both the rules of the register, which requires disclosure of donations of more than $500, and those of the Labour Party, which said all donations would be confidential.

He refused to say how he had met both rules, or whether he had declared donations as being from a trust rather than the original donors.

But he confirmed his campaign was run through an “agent arrangement” rather than taking donations directly. He sought a legal opinion before filing his return and defended the use of trusts.

“In the event donations are made to a trust, the trustee will have information about donations which a candidate or campaign team won’t have. So [if] there is a trust involved, it will be the donations of the trust to the campaign that are declared, as per the rules. If there is a trust, trustees owe obligations of confidentiality.” . . .

How do we reconcile that statement with this:

In 2005, Labour changed electoral finance rules to stop National filtering large anonymous donations through trusts. Grants made through a trust must now be disclosed separately if larger than the disclosable limit of $15,000 to a party or $1500 for an individual candidate.

Mr Cunliffe said there was “nothing at all” to embarrass him in his return.

“It does appear there is a difference between the rules of the party and the rules of the Pecuniary Interests Register. MPs are bound to satisfy both. I’m confident that to the best of my knowledge I have done so, and the results will be in public view to the extent required by the Pecuniary Interests Register.” . . .

It will take someone with a better understanding of the law than I have to explain how two apparently contradictory requirements can be reconciled.

But regardless of that, Keeping Stock points out:

During the debates on the Electoral Finance Bill (since repealed and replaced) speaker after speaker from Labour, the Greens and NZ First railed against the National Party for legally declaring donations through a trust or trusts.

What he did could well be within the rules but isn’t it more than a wee bit hypocritical to rail against trusts to vehemently then use one himself?

The point of the rules was to give transparency which is necessary so we can have trust.

It looks like Cunliffe used a trust but there’s a problem with transparency which makes it all look a bit tricky and therefore it’s difficult to have trust.

So much for consensus

November 7, 2012

Justice Minister Judith Collins has made it clear she wants to get consensus on any change to MMP as a result of recommendations from the electoral Commission.

The shameful ramming through of the Electoral Finance Act and its short life are a reminder of why any changes to electoral law should have more than a simple majority.

Labour obviously doesn’t care about that.

David Shearer said the party is going to introduce a Member’s Bill on MMP:

“Labour’s bill will deal with the most important recommendations made by the Commission. It will abolish the one electorate seat threshold for the allocation of list seats and lower the party vote threshold from 5% to 4%. It will also require the Electoral Commission to conduct a review after three general elections.

“This should not be a party-political issue. I will be writing to the Prime Minister offering to work with the Government to see these changes put in place.

It’s more than a little rich to talk about it not being a party-political issue when he’s writing off the government’s attempt to find common ground before it’s been given a chance.

So much for consensus.

No consensus, no change

November 6, 2012

Justice Minister Judith Collins is consulting all parties about the Electoral Commission’s final report on MMP and she wants to get as much of a consensus as possible.

I think it’s important that we have electoral reform of this sort of magnitude that has  . .. not just a straight majority in parliament but a very substantial majority in parliament. . . .

I well remember what happened when the Electoral Finance Act was rammed through . . . and I know that that caused a lot of angst in parliament and in the public. . .

She is right about both the importance of consensus and the angst caused by the EFA. The then Labour-led government didn’t have much support in or out of parliament but rammed it through anyway.

Electoral law is too important to be treated that way. It should be enduring and it is more likely to be so if it has broad support in parliament.

Wellington constitutional lawyer and former Vote for Change campaigner, Jordan Williams  says the government should reject the recommendations and stick with the status quo.

Unless the government can get strong support for changes that is good advice.

If there is no broad consensus there should be no change.

Sabotage or stupidity?

September 13, 2009

Memo to Andrew Little:

When you’re the president of a party which is trying to drag itself out of the poll doldrums it’s not a good idea to attack the media.

He criticised the country’s three main daily papers for editorials supporting the Social Development Minister, Paula Bennett, after she revealed the details of two beneficiaries’ incomes. The women had made headlines for criticising government policy.

Mr Little called the editors who published the pieces “a disgrace” and said they had no place in an organisation such as the Commonwealth Press Union. He says the affair demonstrated how fragile freedom of speech is and what Labour is up against in trying to get balanced media commentary.

Telling only the part of the story which supports your point (forgetting, or ignoring that these beneficiaries went to the media first) reminds us of recent instances when your leader has fed only part of the story which supported his point and looked silly when the full facts came out.

Pointing out the fragility of freedom of speech reminds us yours was the party which passed the Electoral Finance Act.

That’s either an act of sabotage or it’s stupid. Neither of those is a good look for a party president.

Free elections key to Democratic Club membership

July 15, 2009

Travelling in Europe always reminds me how fortunate New Zealand was to have been settled by the British who came from a democracy and established another in their colony.

Europe is far older than us but many countries here are much newer to democracy than we are.

It’s only 34 years since Franco died and it was a couple of years later that democracy was established in Spain under a constitutional monarchy.

Further east democracies are much younger and some countries have yet to attain it.

Former British ambassador to Moscow, Tony Brenton, sees a role for established democracies  in fostering democracy in countries where it is incipient or endangered. He also sees a role for a Democratic Club and comes up with a simple requirement for membership:

A country must be willing to allow independent international observers to attend and report on its elections.

. . .  Even countries with such impeccable democratic qualifications as the UK might have to modify electoral law to allow observers full access to the balloting process. And the sourcing of observers would itself have to be watched. There are tainted sources, but also excellent ones such as the OSCE (Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe). The core concept, however, could not be starker. If you hold an election judged by international experts to be free and fair, you are a democracy. And if not, not.

It would have been interesting to see if a country with impeccable democratic qualifications such as New Zealand would have passed this test with last year’s election under the Electoral Finance Act.

We can be thankful it has gone but it would be a good guide to keep in mind this criteria when designing the legislation which will replace it.

Imagine the shame if we didn’t qualify! That and the desire to be part of an exclusive, albeit essentially toothless, club is one of the things which Brenton thinks might help foster democracy.

That is a worthy aim. The international community has a real interest in the spread of democracy to those places yet to gain it because ii is not only better for the people in the individual countries, it helps make the world a more stable place.

If a Democratic Club helps encourage democracy then it’s definitely worth promoting.

How much would it take to buy an MP?

May 5, 2009

The $999 limit for donations from individuals and $9,999 from organisations before they have to be disclosed has always struck me as ludicrous.

MPs may not be held in high regard by many people, but does anyone seriously believe one or more could be bought for that little?

 Stephen Franks reveals  that MPs definitely thought it was far too low:

During that debate (behind closed doors) the United Future MP Murray Smith, persuaded us to have a frank discussion about what amount of money we thought would actually be likely to influence a party’s manifesto. We eventually reached a consensus that it was around $50k.

I may be naive but I don’t think an MP or party could be bought for that amount either, but at least it’s a sum which would allow most of those who, for good reasons, might wish to donate to a political party to do so anonymously if they chose to.

Those good reasons include:

* Modesty – I know a lot of people who donate anonymously to all sorts of organisations because they don’t want any publicity.

* Wanting to keep the donation a secret from a partner, family or friends. Not everyone feels free to disclose their political views, especially if they’re in an unequal relationship where they’re the less powerful person.

* Wanting to keep the donation secret from an employer. Some employees may feel their employers don’t share their political views and may be concerned that a public donation might put them at a disadvantage.

*Wanting to keep the donation secret from employees. Some employers may not wish their staff to know their political allegances.

* Wanting to keep the donation secret from associates or clients because the donor might feel it could harm their business.

* Wanting to keep donations secret from other parties. Some people give to more than one party and might not want them all to know that.

Many of those who want full disclosure of donations argue it’s to stop big business and wealthy individuals buying influence. But if the amount is set too low it catches a whole lot of “little” people who want to help a party whose policies they support but don’t want others to know they’re doing it.

Apropos of this, Labour secretary Mike Smith says big donations are drying up.

Would that have anything to do with the Electoral Finance Act, the unpopularity of his party’s policies and the recession?

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