Consider party funding reform options

The funding of New Zealand political parties has been repeatedly identified (as in the Transparency International New Zealand 2013 integrity report) as a major weakness in our democratic system. There is no upper limit on donations to parties, and no disclosure of who has made donations unless they are over a relatively high limit ($15,000). Several major New Zealand political parties are currently being investigated  by the Serious Fraud Office or face charges over their use of donations. In particular, there are allegations that the donations limits are being circumvented by donors splitting up donations into smaller amounts for their associates to give on their behalf. More generally, large (and often undisclosed) donations raise the potential for donors to gain access, and ultimately influence, not available to other citizens, as political parties rely heavily on donations to meet their running costs. Media reports on a lengthening list of scandals related to political donations suggests that such issues are real, constituting a serious breach of the principle that all citizens should have equal political influence.

While reform of party funding is a complex issue, there are international precedents which could be followed or investigated. Canada, for instance, prohibits donations over a relatively low threshold, currently in the order of NZ$1700, making up the difference with state funding. Some local jurisdictions, as in Seattle, are experimenting with democracy vouchers, which give residents/citizens a small amount each to spend on the political party of their choice, democratising the funding of parties/candidates and equalising influence. Accordingly, the next national action plan should include a commitment to a thorough investigation of the issues at stake in party political funding and the potential reform options.

Why the contribution is important

As above, political party donations are a crucial weakness in New Zealand's systems of democratic integrity, and threaten basic democratic principles. They are the source of repeated concerns, scandals and legal investigations; they are also undoubtedly weakening New Zealand's reputation as a relatively open and transparent country. While the Open Government Partnership process is probably not an appropriate forum for completely resolving the issue, it should at least provide a means for better understanding the problem and setting out the options for reform. Conversely, if the national action plan does not tackle the issue of party funding, it cannot be said to be addressing the most pressing issues of transparency and accountability, as it is supposed to.

by maxrash on March 09, 2021 at 04:54PM

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