Brian Rudman 's Opinion

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Politicians need to rewrite the rules

53 comments
John Banks. Photo / Getty Images
John Banks. Photo / Getty Images

Surely it's better for all concerned to know who gave what and how much

If John Banks was looking for a silver lining in his present predicament, he could argue that it shows he can't be "bought" for $50,000. According to disgraced former Act MP David Garrett, Mr Banks' problems arose because he spurned his benefactor Kim Dotcom's pleas for the proverbial file in a cake after he was locked up in Mt Eden Prison.

Mr Garrett claimed "Dotcom was being badly treated in some way and asked who the local MP for the Mt Eden Prison area was". No doubt delighted to discover the mayoral candidate he'd not so long before gifted $50,000 in campaign contributions had transmogrified into that very MP, he asked for help. Mr Garrett says "the MP was very ungracious to his beneficent donor" and "didn't want to know the fat man in his hour of need".

Mr Dotcom "took great umbrage at this ... as you would ... and decided to tell all".

Just why Mr Banks failed to provide the pastoral services expected of either local MP or old and grateful mate, he's not saying. As I write this, he's still claiming amnesia over most parts of this saga. In his defence, a pop psychologist might suggest the memory loss, and his refusal to visit, was triggered by the thought of having to knock again on the door of the awful prison in which both his mother and father were once incarcerated. Not that there are many people rushing to his support. Particularly not his predecessor as Epsom MP and Act leader Rodney Hide, whose blood is still warm on his successor's hands.

Mr Banks and Prime Minister John Key are resisting calls that he stand down from his ministerial roles on the grounds that no wrongdoing has occurred. To me it's the memory lapses they should be concerned about. Failure to remember helicopter trips, dinners, phone conversations all point to the need for an urgent health check-up.

While his political opponents and my journalistic colleagues are having great sport with Possum Banks, trapped in the headlights with nowhere to go, there is a risk the bigger issue of electoral funding reform will get sidelined in the too-hard basket yet again. Parliamentarians did try to clean up their own house after the fiasco surrounding Owen Glenn revealing details of his "anonymous" donations to both the Labour Party and Winston Peters, back in 2008.

However, the rules for local elections remained untouched, leaving local politicians open to exposure if or when their anonymous donors chose to go feral. Until the creation of the Auckland Super City, political funding at a local level was on a limited scale. But the new Auckland mayoralty, with an electorate containing a third of the country's population, was a totally new beast. No other politician, local or national, had to directly contest such a huge constituency, and the cost of campaigning was equally large. But the only significant change to the electoral spending rules was to increase the spending limits for candidates in the Auckland contest.

Mr Hide, who was minister of local government at the time, must be chuckling now that his failure to align the Auckland Council campaign spending rules to the new parliamentary ones has caught out the man who later knifed him.

Just why Mr Banks insisted on Mr Dotcom's $50,000 donation appearing in the "anonymous" category of his mayoral campaign returns is a mystery. Unless Mr Banks had been tipped off by the FBI that the Megastuff empire was in its sights, it seems rather an attractive, new-age industry to have the support of.

You can understand why his campaign hid the $15,000 he got from SkyCity Casino, given his tirades in the past about the evils of gambling. But let's not forget that Mr Dotcom's $50,000 was just part of $520,086 Mr Banks listed as "anonymous" in his returns. A further $103,926 of the $948,937 in donations he received came from "fundraising" with no names attached. The biggest named donor was Mr Banks himself, on $87,000. He was not alone in his secrecy.

The winning candidate, Mayor Len Brown, was even more discreet, with $499,000 of his total $581,900 war chest anonymised within a bank account called the New Auckland Council Trust. Mr Brown did declare his $15,000 from Sky City. After the election, spokesman David Lewis claimed "Len Brown had no knowledge of who donated, let alone the amount", to the trust.

Personally, I find this as hard to believe as Mr Banks' amnesia over the Dotcom donations. It's human nature - and common sense - for a donor to make sure the candidate knows you have given to his campaign - whether it be $5 or $5000, or in this case $50,000. Why wouldn't you? And when you do, it would be very churlish of the beneficiary to shove their fingers in the their ears and say, "go away, I don't want to know". Churlish and foolhardy, if they don't want the cheque to bounce.

The trouble is, by saying thank you before shoving the cash in the anonymous basket, the politician leaves himself hostage to the rules and a later falling-out with the donor. The solution is simple enough. The politicians wrote the existing rules. They can rewrite them. A good first step would be to make any donation over a "petty cash" threshold public knowledge.

- NZ Herald

Your views

Brian Rudman

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.

Read more by Brian Rudman

Have your say

We aim to have healthy debate. But we won't publish comments that abuse others. View commenting guidelines.

1200 characters left

Sort by
  • Oldest

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a1 at 23 Sep 2014 15:04:17 Processing Time: 786ms