New research sheds light on what motivates political party donors in New Zealand
However, some precautions are in order. The fact that they agreed to be interviewed by researchers may suggest that our interviewees were more comfortable with their donations than other donors.
Second, even while insisting that they did not gain additional influence, some made other comments suggesting that some level of influence was a consequence of the donation. One noted interactions with several prime ministers and party leaders, some directly related to fundraising. These characters had, for example, gone to the donor for meals.
Another donor said that a large donation would make it possible to arrange a face-to-face meeting. Even if politics is not explicitly discussed in such contexts, donors and politicians clearly establish close relationships.
These are the conditions under which the interests and beliefs of political leaders can gravitate towards those of donors, especially since ordinary voters generally do not enjoy such privileged access.
Some donors have alluded to such closeness. One said, speaking of the party he is donating to, “They’re nice to me, and I’m nice to them.”
Another acknowledged that although donations were made for self-interest, “self-interest is [seen as] That is, donors rationalize actions to promote their own interests by arguing that it overlaps perfectly with the public interest, even if such a correlation is far from guaranteed.
Do our rules need to be more robust?
Some would argue that the process for regulating donations is working, as evidenced by ongoing court cases. However, these cases were triggered by whistleblowers, and not because of regulatory oversight in the first place. We cannot rely on whistleblowers to report all cases of suspected wrongdoing.
Much electoral reform work is currently underway, including contested changes to donation disclosure rules and a broader independent review of election law.
With two more donation court cases coming this year, pressure is mounting to change the way political parties are financed.
Such reform seems necessary to create greater transparency about donations and ensure that trust in Aotearoa New Zealand’s political funding system is not permanently eroded.