Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Danger of barrow-pushing donors

Louis Crimp gave $125,520 to Act, hoping it would push his contentious views on Maori. Photo / Steven McNicholl
Louis Crimp gave $125,520 to Act, hoping it would push his contentious views on Maori. Photo / Steven McNicholl

The Act Party under John Banks' leadership is fast becoming Schadenfreude Central.

While we're all settling back in our chairs waiting for Mr Banks' ex-mate, eccentric German millionaire Kim Dotcom, to rip another wing off his quivering body, up pops Act's major 2011 election funder, the incredible, seedy Invercargill accountant-developer, Louis Crimp.

In the Weekend Herald he was calling for Act to get on with the Maori-bashing policies he'd paid for with his $125,520 donation to last year's campaign chest. Then on TV3's follow-up news interview on Monday night, Mr Crimp, 79, interrupted proceedings by fluttering his eyelids at his interrogator, Jane Luscombe, and asking if she'd ever had sex against a tree. For reasons that weren't explained, the interview appeared to be in central Auckland's Myers Park, which is dominated by huge, gnarly trunked, palm trees.

Whether Louis Crimp earns a place in history as the man who provided the stake that finally finished off the Act Party, we'll have to wait and see.

What is certain, he's making Mr Banks and his dwindling band squirm, and their enemies guffaw. But with the disgust for his racist comments and the delight in Act's discomfort, let's not forget one broader issue. Mr Crimp's large donation helped persuade the National Party voters of Epsom, to give their electorate vote to Mr Banks, thus ensuring Act scraped back into Parliament.

As a result of Mr Crimp's money, Mr Banks is now a minister in the Government, and National has agreed to Act's demand to set up state-funded charter schools. The Government has also agreed to a long-standing Act wish that government spending be capped to the rate of population growth and inflation.

On Saturday, Act president Chris Simmons was reported as disagreeing with Mr Crimp's anti-Maori nonsense, but was happy to take more of his money if it was offered. Whether Mr Crimp's Monday night talk of knee-tremblers against a tree has caused Act to think again about accepting his money, is yet to be ascertained.

But it does highlight once more whether political parties in a small democracy like ours should be beholden to the generosity of millionaires, some at least of whom are, to be kind, eccentric in their views, and all of whom - being human - expect some sort of return for their investment.

Mr Crimp is just the latest in a long line. He handed over his money after Don Brash seized control of Act last year, hoping the party would push the views on Maori espoused by Dr Brash in his controversial 2004 Orewa speech as National Party leader.

Before the courts now is millionaire businessman Yong Ming Yan aka Yang Liu, aka William Yan, who has contributed to both major party election chests.

This is chicken feed compared to the $500,000 the homesick, ex-Mt Roskill boy, international freight forwarding mogul Owen Glenn dished out to Labour for the 2005 election, and the $100,000 he gave to fund Winston Peters' legal battles soon after.

But even these sums pale into insignificance alongside the $2 million merchant banker Michael Fay is said to have poured into Labour Party coffers in gratitude for the Rogernomic reforms of the mid-1980s.

Nicky Hager's book, The Hollow Men, underlines how the parties of the right tend to be the big winners. Fishing industry heavyweights Peter and Michael Talley, Alan Gibbs, Craig Heatley, David Richwhite, Doug Myers and Peter Shirtcliffe have all been generous. Mr Shirtcliffe also bankrolled the anti-MMP campaigns.

American hedge fund millionaire Julian Robertson refused to confirm or deny Mr Hager's claims he helped fund National. On the other hand, Mr Dotcom has gone out of his way to point out his large contribution to Mr Banks' failed Auckland mayoral campaign, and also his great displeasure that when his mate became an MP and Act leader, he didn't come to his rescue when he found himself inside Mt Eden Prison in great discomfort.

And let's not forget the secret $1 million pro-National Party campaign funded by the Exclusive Brethren sect.

In recent years, legislation has forced parties to reveal who their bigger donors are. But there are still back doors built into the system, designed by politicians, that allow for "anonymous" donations.

To me, the idea that big donors will hand over money without a nudge and a wink to the recipient, stretches credulity. As does the thought that a politician won't be checking up through the party system or however whether such and such person has handed over the promised cheque.

The 1986 Royal Commission into the electoral system, having tried in vain to get to the bottom of the sources of party funding in the 1984 general election, declared in favour of state funding for political parties.

In those days, both the big two parties had much larger membership bases than they do today. Even so, the commissioners reflected that "the extent to which ordinary party members and supporters can meet the sophisticated and costly requirements of parties in a modern democracy ... is severely limited. Our parties should be able to operate not just as electoral machines, but also vehicles through which ideas may be discussed and sound policies developed".

They said, "Political parties are too important to be left to starve" and warned "too great a reliance" on outside funders like trade unions and corporation would be "detrimental to our democracy and might ... lead to corruption of our political process ..." A quarter century on, their message sounds just as pertinent, and urgent.

- NZ Herald

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Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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