Time to ban all political donations

Bernard Keane at Crikey has a good idea:

Short of towing the NSW Labor Party out to sea and sinking it, is there anything that can be done about persistent corruption in NSW?

It’s clear from evidence emerging at the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption inquiring into political donations that the party that gave us a series of corrupt ministers persists in simply refusing to abide by the most basic rules of ethics and probity.

But while the media focus is on individual donors and party officials like NSW Labor secretary Kaila Murnain, let’s not forget the structural reason why corruption keeps happening in NSW — and most likely would be revealed at the federal level if the Coalition ever permitted a fair dinkum ICAC to be established in Canberra.

Political donations are at the centre of the worst scandals in Australian public life in recent years. It was donations that killed the careers of multiple Liberal politicians in NSW, ended the premiership of Barry O’Farrell — NSW’s and Australia’s best premier since Nick Greiner — and wrecked the prospects of Arthur Sinodinos. In 2016, the NSW Electoral Commission found that the NSW Liberals had “channelled and disguised” donations from prohibited donors, and withheld public funding from the party.

…The challenge of regulating donations effectively is that both donors and the parties have such strong incentives to game, circumvent or simply break laws restricting them. Donations are crucial to campaign advertising and voter research and marketing. They are a key tool by which interests both legitimate and illegitimate try to influence politicians. They are a means of buying access to key decision-makers. Yet, especially at the Commonwealth level, they remain relatively poorly regulated despite the best efforts of electoral authorities and anti-corruption bodies.

You could remove Kaila Murnain, and the NSW Labor Party, but poorly-regulated donations mean they’d be replaced by someone else, and by another party. The only structural solution is to remove donations altogether, or limit them to a small amount that would reward grass-roots organisation and campaigning, and apply the same rules to third-party groups like GetUp and trade unions. The only victims would be media companies that would be deprived of a regular injection of several million dollars from taxpayers for political advertisements that voters hate anyway, robopoll companies and printers of junk mail that goes straight to recycling.

The notion of “towing the NSW Labor Party out to sea and sinking it” is better.

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    • Politicians voting to ban political donations seems about as likely as workers voting for pay decreases.

      This is the fundamental issue with trying to reform in this area.

        • Only if it actually is. Otherwise you have to get the politicians to propose the change to the constitution in the first place.
          I haven’t read the constitution but i’m going to go out on a limb and say it isn’t explicitly unconstitutional and the politicians have significant influence on the high court so it would be unlikely to rule that way without it being explicit.

  1. Can we trial the “live burial at sea” with NSW Labour, and if it does indeed reduce the corrupt behavior of those involved, roll it out to all the major parties at all levels of government, states and territories?

  2. Ronin8317MEMBER

    As long ss your standing in the political party depends on how much donation you can bring in, corruption is impossible to stop.

  3. Narapoia451MEMBER

    Article starts with the idea of towing NSW labor out to see to end corruption. Details institutional corruption by liberals. Ends talking about labour again. They are both as bad as each other. Ban donations, run elections from a public purse split along party membership numbers. If people want to give something it should be their time, volunteer that.

  4. thefatgeneralMEMBER

    As nice as it would be, it’s almost impossible to stop people or groups spending money themselves independently. How would one ban the minerals council promoting it’s members? And the threat to run a campaign…etc

    The issue as I see it is that with the growth in population it becomes more and more necessary to have big budget campaigns. Our electoral divisions are now 100k+ which necessitates that prospective candidates need to raise huge funds to run an effective campaign. Make the numbers of mp’s greater (& pay and support staff less) and all of a sudden you will get local well known people running small budget campaigns and not needing the large funding.

  5. “limit them to a small amount”

    I recall a couple years ago there was a controversy where an LNP minister organised a large function full of property developers, and accepted $990 cash donations from each of them. The $990 being significant regarding reporting purposes.

  6. Sink ’em. A fine idea. Use naval gunfire. The shrieks as those 5 inch bricks come screaming in towards them….

  7. GunnamattaMEMBER

    Could i propose that we – in addition to towing the NSW ALP offshore and using it for live firing exercises – bind, gag, truss, and get a fire ready for, inter alia

    The Arthur Sinodinos wing of the Liberals
    The Angus Taylor Barnaby Joyce wing of the Nationals
    The Queensland state national party
    The Queensland state liberal party
    The Queensland state ALP
    The Tasmanian state liberal party
    The Tasmanian state ALP
    The Victorian state Liberal party
    Anyone ever demonstrated to have come into contact with anyone surnamed Mirabella
    Any political party which has ever received funds from an offshore national

    ……..more to the point how about we just mandate electrodes be attached to all political or administrative types which the public can turn up the voltage on?

  8. Need new parties to go to the election with intending changes to zero donations, cuts to politician entitlement, and immigration cuts.

    Australia would run to vote for them.

      • I hear you. Though, social media can change this. It’s changed everything else, why not this?

        People are angry enough.

        • Social media is merely another avenue requiring money and/or people thrown at it to influence people to provide the desired outcomes.
          Yet another expense required to be funded from the donations along with more traditional advertising.
          The reality is that social media and tech advances have narrowed rather than broadened what most peoplle are exposed to, and has massively concentrated the controllers of the narrative to the algorithm writers and manipulaters.

  9. rob barrattMEMBER

    Ah yes, and that upstanding Socialist Jackie Trad couldn’t initially answer questions about the 700K house she forgot she owned because she was on a “Trade Mission” to – wait for it “London, Paris & New York”. FFS.
    There is however one way to help keep the bastards honest: On being elected to parliament, an MP must provide a bond for (say) 500 thousand dollars. Should they be found guilty of rorting so much as a bus fare, they would have to pay up a percentage of the bond to be determined by (say) 50 times the value of the rort.

  10. The only structural solution is to remove donations altogether, or limit them to a small amount that would reward grass-roots organisation and campaigning, and apply the same rules to third-party groups like GetUp and trade unions.

    In the absence of political donations, how does someone who is not independently (very) wealthy run a political campaign to be elected without becoming beholden to one of the established political parties ?

    Consequently, the correct solution is to allow donations, but limit them to citizens only and to small amounts reasonably achievable by most people. I would propose something around a couple of thousand a year (per person, regardless of whether the donation is to a rep at the federal, state or local level, or to a proxy lobbying organisation like GetUp! or the IPA). Donations would obviously have to be tracked per person at some level but must remain anonymous/unpublished, though the actual $ amounts should be published in, or near, real-time. “Donation” here doesn’t encompass just cash, either, it’s buying drinks, gifts, complimentary club memberships, the same for family members, etc, etc.

    Further, the enforcement for these rules needs to be brutal, because a very harsh cost/benefit analysis is the only language corrupt psychopaths understand. My starting points:

    Politicians found to have knowingly accepted a donation outside the rules should be removed from their position, forfeit any pension entitlements and pay a fine no less than 10x the money they received illegally. This should apply regardless of whether or not the corruption is discovered while they are still in office.

    Politicians caught trying to encourage or assist others in circumventing the rules get all of the above plus some mandatory gaol time.

    Individuals found deliberately attempting to circumvent the rules (regardless of success) should be subject to a fine no less than 10x the amount. Repeat offenses should result in mandatory and increasing gaol time.

    People found trying to organisationally or systemically circumvent the rules (eg: impersonating other individuals, employers giving workers “bonuses” and “encouraging” them to make donations with them, or paying them to be “volunteers”) should be subject to a minimum fine of 100x the amount and face mandatory gaol time even for a first offense. Repeat offenders step up the fine amount and gaol time.

    Trying to subvert our democracy is a serious issue and the consequences should reflect this.

  11. pingupenguinMEMBER

    All great solutions…now who wants a bet with me that no pollie in the next 10 years would even suggest such a thing? Loser pays off my mortgage.

    • I’ll take that bet.
      But then again, I have bought 6 off the plan apartments in the last 5 years, so I’m accustomed to risk.

  12. Lol, A democracy! To swing the vote to enable the party of choice to win the media only need to brainwash 20% or 30% of the population. Lets say the Nazi party is running for office. 75% not in favour, 25% in favour. Those who control the media only need to get 25% of the 75% to change their minds. Which is easy seeing repeating three word slogans every hourly news headlines for a few months combined with the usual party banter and favourable coverage has proven to brainwash the masses.

    Democracy is the ability to vote for the top 50 corporations/ USA/ Israel A rep or B rep. With the occasional good person who actually cares thrown in for good measure.