CEOs sent a clear message in the Mood of the Boardroom survey — 75 per cent of them agreeing the Government should legislate to tighten foreign donation laws in order to remove the taint of backdoor funding through the use of New Zealand companies. Just 8 per cent said this isn't necessary; 17 per cent were unsure.
A parliamentary select inquiry committee is looking into domestic influence and interference by foreign state actors.
New Zealand electoral law forbids donations above $1500 from foreign nationals but classes New Zealand-registered companies as local even if their control or ownership is foreign.
The donation issue was thrust into the spotlight again last month when former National Party MP Jami-Lee Ross revealed that then trade minister Todd McClay had helped to facilitate a $150,000 donation to his party in 2016 from Chinese millionaire Lang Lin, through his New Zealand-registered company Inner Mongolia Rider Horse Industry NZ Ltd.
"That is an absurdly large loophole in our foreign donation laws," says a property firm boss.
Chorus CEO Kate McKenzie says all donors expect to obtain some influence as a result of donating, though she is "not sure 'foreign' donors are any better or worse — transparency and awareness of who is donating and why are the important things to focus on".
Chair of NZ Local Government Funding Agency Craig Stobo agrees, suggesting that all political donations should be transparent, which would allow "the fourth estate to then do its forensic job".
Mainfreight's Don Braid suggests we should have zero tolerance: "no international political donations should be allowed."
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Whereas a dairy company chief executive suggests he is "not so sure about the relevance of donations, because foreign actors are present with or without".
However, Westpac chief executive David McLean says the laws are already very tight.
Deloitte chief executie Thomas Pippos says his sense is "this is a non-issue", suggesting a greater issue exists with the use of social media to peddle fake news.