Issue 431 February 1, 2020
National Party Leader Simon Bridges was rather quick to absolve himself and his Party of any wrongdoing, following an announcement by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) on Wednesday, January 29, 2020 that it had filed criminal charges against four persons over donations.
SFO filed the charges after a ten-month inquiry into the donations of a Chinese businessman to the National Party. Mr Bridges and his Party’s General Manager Greg Hamilton have not been charged.
While they are clear from the legal point of view, questions on the donations and their opaque nature will continue to linger on the minds of the people.
For, New Zealanders expect their politicians to be squeaky clean.
As Electoral Law expert Andrew Geddis told Radio New Zealand, “The question is whether mere compliance with the law is sufficient for political parties. Is this sort of fundraising morally acceptable, no matter what the law may say about it?”
Sam Sachdeva, Political Editor of Newsroom said that Mr Bridges’ claims of vindication, while strictly accurate, miss the wider import of SFO’s announcement.
Mr Geddis however told him that it was the donors, rather than the Party, who are likely to be under the spotlight. “But it is unsurprising that Mr Hamilton has not been charged, given that the Electoral Law allows a Party Secretary to ‘take on the face value’ any information provided to them by a donor.’
“If Mr Hamilton was given a list of names as having each given an amount under $15,000, and is able to confirm those people existed, then all he had to do was bank the money, keep a record of them as having donated, and include them in the total number of donations of that size reported to the Electoral Commission.”
Somehow, the situation does not sit well in the public realm. It raised the whole question, again, of greater transparency of party funding.