Government plans to pass legislation under urgency to ban foreign political donations over $50 and require parties to include a certification on all their advertising to distinguish it from fake ads

Government plans to pass legislation under urgency to ban foreign political donations over $50 and require parties to include a certification on all their advertising to distinguish it from fake ads
Justice Minister Andrew Little

The Government plans to pass legislation under urgency to ban foreign donations over $50 to political parties and candidates.

It introduced the Electoral Amendment Bill (No 2) to Parliament on Tuesday afternoon. 

The National Party will support the legislation, “because it’s the right thing to do”, even though it isn't happy the Bill is being passed under urgency. 

Justice Minister Andrew Little said a $50 threshold will be put in place to ensure small-scale fundraising activities aren't affected. But big donations will be gone.

Currently, foreign donations over $1500 are forbidden.

The Bill also requires party secretaries and candidates to take reasonable steps to ensure donations aren’t from foreigners. The Electoral Commission will issue guidance on what these steps to check the origin of the donations should look like.

Thirdly, the Bill requires party secretaries to live in New Zealand.

And finally, it extends the requirement to include a party secretary’s name and address on election adverts, to all mediums - including online ads.

ACT and Jami-Lee Ross critical 

While National will support the Bill, a spokesperson said: “Like most other pieces of legislation, it should go through a full and thorough process. In the spirit of bipartisanship we would support a shortened Select Committee process so experts and the public could make a contribution.

“This legislation doesn’t need to be rushed… Passing legislation under urgency without good reason sets a terrible precedent.”

Botany MP Jami-Lee Ross said the planned law change "does nothing to close the back door to foreigners influencing NZ politics through companies and other structures".

Little said the requirement for secretaries and candidates to do due diligence on donations should prevent this. 

ACT leader David Seymour said: “The Government needs to explain how will this law be enforced. If a political party receives hundreds of small donations, is it then required to verify that none of these came from an overseas person?...

“In reality, this move is designed to draw attention towards the Serious Fraud Office investigation into National’s donations issue and away from the NZ First Foundation’s donations scandal, a damaging privacy breach, and a bad poll.

“Also puzzling is why the Government has not waited for the Justice Committee’s recommendations on this issue."

Little has decided to introduce legislation to Parliament ahead of the Justice Committee reporting back to him on how to address the risk of foreign interference further to its inquiry into the 2017 General Election and 2016 Local Elections.

“Further policy work in this area is ongoing,” Little said.

Little's rationale

“There’s no need for anyone other than New Zealanders to donate to our political parties or seek to influence our elections," said Little.

“The risk of foreign interference in elections is a growing international phenomenon and can take many forms, including donations. New Zealand is not immune from this risk.

“The Justice Select Committee has heard there are credible reports of interference campaigns in the elections of other countries, and these attempts are increasing in their sophistication.

“A recent Canadian Government report found half of all advanced democracies holding national elections had their democratic process targeted by cyber threat activity in 2018. That’s a threefold increase since 2015."

The New Zealand Security Intelligence Service in April warned the Justice Committee of foreign interference in New Zealand politics through covert donations, manipulation of ex-pat communities and foreign language media.

The Government Communications Security Bureau at the same briefing said online voting was too risky. 

Little went on to say: “We’ve seen in other countries an avalanche of fake news social media ads that contain no information about who is behind them. That’s not fair and we don’t want to see it repeated here.

“Anonymous online advertisements aimed at interfering with our democracy will be prohibited. If someone wants to advertise online, they need to say who they are, the same as if the ad was published in a newspaper.”

Green Party pleased but wants further reform

The Green Party has long called for a foreign donation ban.

Its Justice spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman said: “We would like to see a raft of further measures to ensure equal access to our democracy.

“This includes implementing the 2012 MMP Review recommendations, reducing the anonymity threshold for all donations, and allowing Māori to change roll type at any time.”

NZ First leader Winston Peters said he agreed with Little's bill. 

We welcome your help to improve our coverage of this issue. Any examples or experiences to relate? Any links to other news, data or research to shed more light on this? Any insight or views on what might happen next or what should happen next? Any errors to correct?

We welcome your comments below. If you are not already registered, please register to comment.

Remember we welcome robust, respectful and insightful debate. We don't welcome abusive or defamatory comments and will de-register those repeatedly making such comments. Our current comment policy is here.

59 Comments

Comment Filter

Highlight new comments in the last hr(s).

What about companies and trusts? Wasn't it a company that was used to allow the recent large donation to National?

Edit: https://www.odt.co.nz/news/national/150k-foreign-donation-national-deepl...
https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12261215

Botany MP Jami-Lee Ross said the planned law change "does nothing to close the back door to foreigners influencing NZ politics through companies and other structures".

Little said the requirement for secretaries and candidates to do due diligence on donations should prevent this.

Hmm. Interesting - the law makes party secretaries and candidates liable for the infringement? Wonder what the penalty for failing to do due diligence is?

12
up

Excellent. Donations should be only allowable from those that can vote.
You don't need large amounts of cash to go door knocking and throw adds on FB.

And immediate recording of donations on online, searchable database. Close donations a week before elections so the media have time to figure out who is trying to buy us. Let's do this.

27
up

This is a reminder that despite their flaws, this government have also done some very good things. Excellent.

12
up

..look at the comments and pick the tribe members who can't give credit where credit due. Focus on the policy folks, not who came up with it.
What did Key and Judith do for 9 years on this issue? Nothing... except roll out the red carpet.. ..

OK. It's a good policy. There you go. It's a shitty way to do it and the timing and urgency stinks. Pick the tribe member determined to fawn no matter what. This isn't how electoral law should be changed.

"It's a shitty way to do it" - ah yes, let's not do anything about it then, like the Nats did.
"the timing and urgency stinks" - should've waited another 9 years with it, right?

Wow it's almost like 'do it multilaterally and not under urgency' is an option too. At least it is if you're not determined to engage in whatabouttery.

Am guessing the urgency has been used for good reason - word of big money pouring in from offshore.

You're guessing - or rather speculating trying to put a good spin on this - and your guess is not even plausible ( not commitment to have this in time for the next election ) .
Window dressing / distraction attempt , pure and simple .

What do you mean "not commitment to have this in time for the next election"?

It will be law by 1 January next year.

. . according to Barry Soper ( Newstalk ) local donations account for 99.2 % ...

So ... the money isn't exactly pouring in from offshore ... a mere 0.8 % ... 8 cents of every $ 10 ...

I'll give credit where it's due on this and I'm no fan of Labour.

Ideally would have liked more debate on it
- what's driving the urgency?
- can the certification be replicated by fake news anyway?
- agree with GV's point below regarding Unions and their influence - I can't imagine their Unions' members have a homogenous political leaning, so why do they use subs from vulnerable people to prop up particular parties?

"- what's driving the urgency?"
That's the big question for me - It's an odd bit of legislation to be passed under urgency. Even more so that National agree with policy (if not the timing)

What crisis has just been unearthed? and when will we the voting public find out about it?

Perhaps we have recently found out a government party gets very large loans of untraceable funding. The passing of campaign financing law under urgency means the government is able bypass the committee stages and so avoid any parliamentary examination of untraceable loans.

So true..I doubt that anything that would appease some of the whingers on these threads - except lower their tax rate.

10
up

Completely meaningless window dressing. Dead simple to transfer money to some NZ person or identity from overseas who then donates on behalf of the foreign identity.
If we must have a donation system, all donors should be identified. what does any honest up front person have to hide?

Desperate attempt to distract attention from NZF shenanigans ...

Clever, I like it.

Its a start.
Next would be to see how it can prohibit donations feeding through local residents as do property purchases now.

I guess there's no need for local companies or unions to donate to political parties either. Funny how that wasn't included in this sudden announcement before the committee had made recommendations, which couldn't have had anything to do with weeks of headlines about NZ First donations and then a poll result that shows stable support for National. Totally unthinkable.

Banning unions, trusts, companies etc. would be ideal, indeed.

12
up

Yet another surprisingly simple fix.
- Only a registered voter can donate.
- All donations are registered and made public. (Voter - amount - party/candidate.)

therefore no donations from the unions. 0.0% chance of Labor doing it.

Oh for goodness sake ............ what is this about ?

Looks to me like case of ..................."look over here !" to take our attention away from something more sinister.

12 weeks after a QC investigation that was going to be 4 weeks when first announced, but can announce electoral policy before a committee reports back?

Sinister? Surely not.
A bunch of "residency" applications will quickly be approved by our illustrious immigration minister.
Followed by a bunch of newly "Domestic" donations all going to Labour.

Meanwhile National's primary source of funding has just been axed. Or so Labour think.

A bunch of new "Domestic" trusts/company's will be set up and start making "Domestic" donations to National.

And so the merry-go-round continues.

Haha sounds like a flag referendum eh Boatman....they've obviously taken a page out of JK's book.

again - under urgency ???? why -- why not actually do a proper review -- after all they have already had about 150 workign groups -- one more should not hurt !

do it once do it right -- and if its about stopping undue influence -- then must include companies - organisations - including Unions an Employer groups --

but really --- its a look left -- as Winston is on your right !

This is about overseas donations, if you want to get rid of union donations, then get rid of right wing interest groups donations too, plenty of those around.

it's almost like this is actually a complex discussion worth having and not isolating one bit for a sudden arbitrary change before the committee reports back to be made under urgency.

Pity the poor donors who have Asian-sounding names....

The ones donating aren't poor.

Aren't the McXingmowang's an old Scottish clan ?

Interesting. Perhaps Labours polling is showing its in trouble, and it needs to fence off Winston and Nationals "donation" go rounds. Ok with it being limited to NZ registered voters. International vested interest based donations should have no part of influencing political voting in NZ.

Edit. Indeed polling shows problems. "Dont know/Refused to answer" holds the balance of power. https://www.interest.co.nz/news/102844/second-1-news-colmar-brunton-poll...

Nothing to stop some rich old white guys slipping cash filled envelopes under the door at Simon Bridges electoral office...JLR can advise on how to divvy it up!

Great news, about time!

I think that these matters should be purely government funded. Say 70% split equally between the parties that have members in parliament with the remaining 30% split equally between 3 other parties decided by an on line referendum. Or something similar. This leaves influence totally in the hands of the NZ voters where it belongs. No other party should have any influence on the running of our country. Absolutely nobody.
The cost would be minor in the whole scheme of things. Our democracy is far too valuable to sell off and compromise in the way that we are allowing. Of all the things that we should be having decided in a referendum, this surely is one. Parliament would never achieve cross party agreement to what I am suggesting, particularly National as they predominantly represent the interests of the non voters, i.e foreigners and business. A solid referendum however would stop them in their tracks.

Why should I be forced to fund a party if its own members won't chip in to help it spread its message?

I completely agree. There would be some arguments over how to assign the money, but a tiny price to pay compared to the loss of democracy when those with money are able to set the agenda to their liking. It boggles my mind that people would prefer a donation-based system over paying a few dollars each per year and removing outside influence.

Maybe when political parties can be trusted to fill out a donation return correctly or not set up trusts and loans to defeat electoral transparency. Maybe then we can start writing them taxpayer checks. At the very minimum, at the moment, they are accountable to their members, and even that arguably doesn't work. If they can't convince their own members they should have some skin in the game, why should taxpayers be further forced to underwrite their bullshit?

Will this law prevent me from donating $50 to each candidate in a particular party or are donations to individuals still allowed.

Is Andy getting enough sleep?

I've replaced the image with a new one taken a few minutes ago. Andrew Little is looking a little more fresh-faced today. 

Now that level of service is above and beyond the call of duty!

Any look at what's been going on in Australia, and the smell of what's happening here, would show it's time to spray some pretty powerful disinfectant round our own politics. It needs to soak into every dingy corner and shady cavity.

So...can foreign people or entities get much for only a $1500 bribe currently? I'd always assumed political favours meant hiring a professional lady with soft skills to provide compromising pictures.

Would love to see no donations. Fund the campaigns out of government coffers. I know this is tax payer funds but it will give us the most transparency on policy and reduce corruption. I do not know how distribution of funds and fund amounts would work, just think its the best idea to stop interference. Let the parties put forward their best policies to be voted on, not the policies chosen by those with the most money to throw at the parties.

The devil will be in the details, inspection and enforcement. And loopholes like donations by companies/organisations, thrid party transfers (the amount being so small, tracking each would be harder).
But a good PR move, nonetheless.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions ............. so if they dont want any external or undue influence in our nation's elections then the same rules MUST apply to donations from TRADE UNIONS and other such lobby groups

... they would argue that trade unions represent kiwi workers , it's not the same as banning foreign corporations from political donations ...

Boatman - can you explain your thinking futher on this one?

Hastily drafted laws for no apparent reason. I don't see this one being controversial but it doesn't give anyone any comfort regarding due process.

Offshore Oil Exploration banned half way thru a consultation process
Plastic bags banned half way thru a consultation process
Semi Automatic gun ban having to be redrafted

I'd say the only one that you could argue needed urgency was the gun ban... so what is the need for urgency on this?

.. re. the gun ban ... the only ones handing in their rifles are good law abiding shooters ... crims and gangs aren't there ... most shooting crime involves 22s and shotguns ... not the assault rifles used in Chch mosques ...

" knee jerk " reaction just seems to be this governments modus operandi ...

Did the USA threaten to expel NZ from Five Eyes unless they acted tout de suite about Chinese Communist Party interference in NZ?

Michael Reddell fires up the gas axe and gives this travesty the thorough scorching it deserves...

I don't understand what changing it from $1500 to $50 actually does.
What can I get from a $1500 donation? I'd be surprised if I got more than an automated 'thank you'.