Further to my comments in Sunday Star-Times:
Since May 2012, Colin Craig has
contributed at least $2,594,500 to the Conservative Party, plus $675,000 from
Laurence and Katrina Day of Hamilton. Kim Dotcom pumped $3,250,000 into the
Internet Party in May this year. At least the Electoral Act makes these
donations transparent, and voters can judge for themselves. But what do we know
about the link between finances and election results? Most of the research on
this question comes from the US, where money and politics are intimately
intertwined. But they have completely different electoral and governmental
systems from ours, so comparisons are not easy. In any case, the research shows
(unsurprisingly) that it's complicated.
Campaign spending may positively affect
vote share sometimes, but it can also have a negative effect if voters disapprove
of the sources or suspect favour-trading (think Bretherens and National, 2005),
and it may make no difference if there was little contest anyway.
The lesson for NZ may be that campaign
finance matters more to your vote share if you are not yet in parliament, or if
you are in opposition. But there is no straight line linking finance with
results. Craig's investment could turn out to be a colossal waste (as it was in
2011). Perhaps he’d achieve more if that money were donated to charities.
So, the sky is not the limit, but there
must be a floor, or a war-chest sum below which it is impossible to have any
electoral impact at all, or no chance of winning even one seat. And apparently
that 'floor' is quite a high one nowadays. Long gone are the days of
independents winning electorates, whereas that was quite common up until the
As for the link between donations and
policies, it can be hard to tell which came first, the policy or the donation.
Think of the couple who donated to the Conservatives because they want binding
referenda. Did Craig push that policy because of the donation, or did the donor
come forward because of the policy? Or were they in cahoots all along? And will
we ever know the truth?
Some research shows that (in the US)
donations do influence voting patterns of congressmen. But, in NZ, individual
legislators can't be influenced so easily, as they almost always obey the party
whip. So, it's not clear how much influence donors in NZ have on parties'
policies or support for legislation. Outright bribery of an MP regarding a
Bill is of course a crime.
We do have strict limits on spending on
election advertising by parties and by local electorate candidates. This is
alongside state funding for parties’ electoral campaign broadcasts. But should
we also put a cap on the amounts of money that any private donor can donate or
on the total amounts that parties can collect from donors in an electoral
A strict cap on private donations may
increase the numbers of donors, as parties would have to look further afield.
This may be a good thing. Oddly enough, it could actually turn out to be in the
interests of the fat-cat funded parties (such as ACT) if there were caps on
private donations, as this would reduce voter suspicion of policy-influence by
At least it's now transparent who is
donating large sums to whom. If all donors (great and small) had to be named, then
a huge list of names would come out into the public arena, and many would be deterred
from donating as a result (which would be a pity, I think). Also, should we
then demand to know who is donating in-kind? e.g. on the phone banks, door
knocking, items for auction, etc. Where does it end?
Allowing for private gifts (of time and
money) to political parties is beneficial, as it connects supporters with party
leaders. Anonymity for small donors helps to keep them donating. We have
presently a mixed public-private system. But do we need to cap big private
donations and move political party finance more towards state funding? It’s
worth a debate.
Here's another informative article.