Wednesday 13 November 2019

Campaign finance balloons

I used to spend a bit of time on campaign finance when I taught public choice - the evidence on whether money buys politicians' votes, extent to which campaign expenditure influences outcomes, different models of lobbying activity and the like. 

I liked there to note that campaign finance reform is a bit like squeezing on a balloon. Things will always pop back out in other places, and you have to watch for that.

Guyon Espiner's found one spot where the balloon has bulged out:
A mysterious foundation that loans money to New Zealand First is under scrutiny, with a university law professor saying although it's lawful, it fails to provide the transparency voters need in a democracy.

Records show New Zealand First has disclosed three loans from the New Zealand First Foundation. In 2017, it received $73,000. Then in 2018, it received a separate loan of $76,622, in what the Electoral Commission says was a loan executed to "replace the first loan". In 2019, it received another loan for $44,923.

The only information known about the foundation is the names and addresses of the two men who are trustees. They are Brian Henry, who acts as a lawyer for the New Zealand First leader Winston Peters, and Doug Woolerton, a former New Zealand First MP.

When contacted by RNZ, Mr Henry said, "There is nothing to talk about. That's the end of the conversation," and hung up.

As well as his role as a trustee for the New Zealand First Foundation which loans money to the party, Henry is also the "judicial officer" for New Zealand First. The position means Mr Henry gives legal advice to the board of the party, serves as a member of the constitution committee and chairs the disputes committee.

Mr Woolerton left Parliament in 2008 and now runs a lobbying firm. His company is called The Lobbyist and its website offers media strategies, services in "drafting changes for legislation" and "personal introductions" where appropriate.

"I am not prepared to talk about it at all," Mr Woolerton said of the New Zealand First Foundation. "It is not something that I am able to talk about. It is not something that you talk about at all."

Mr Woolerton wouldn't say what the foundation was, what his role as a trustee involved or whether he believed he had conflicts of interest given he also ran a lobbying firm.
So. The guy who runs the foundation that can take anonymous donations and make loans to New Zealand First on the back of those donations is the same guy who can be hired as a lobbyist to suggest drafting changes for legislation and make personal introductions.

And New Zealand First has a fair bit of sway over legislation given the current coalition environment.

There is no corruption in New Zealand....

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