Two councillors support stricter donations law

Tougher rules proposed to police anonymous donations in local politics do not go far enough, two Dunedin city councillors say.

The comments from Crs Lee Vandervis and Jinty MacTavish came after Local Government Minister David Carter announced plans for a new $1500 cap on anonymous donations - among other changes - for local body elections.

Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull said the move was unlikely to have a major influence on local body elections in Dunedin next year, given the small part donations played in financing previous campaigns.

However, Cr MacTavish, one of his Greater Dunedin colleagues, said she would support a lower cap, of between $300 and $500, to promote greater transparency.

Cr Vandervis - an unsuccessful mayoral candidate in 2010 - went further, arguing anonymous donations should be scrapped to force all those financing campaigns into the open.

"The source, and the amount, I believe quite frankly just should be out there."

Mr Carter announced the changes earlier this month to address "growing public concern" over the transparency of anonymous donations.

That followed an outcry over the $50,000 donation solicited from internet millionaire Kim Dotcom by John Banks in 2010 - and later listed as anonymous - when Mr Banks was vying to regain the Auckland mayoralty.

In Dunedin, only 11 city council candidates declared donations in 2010, mostly for small amounts and few of them anonymous.

Cr MacTavish was one of the few who did, relying on small contributions solicited through her website - totalling $5750 but including $3000 from family members - to cover her $6444 election expenses.

Existing rules meant she was required to declare only larger amounts, but she supported moves to promote greater transparency.

"I think it is really important that people know, broadly speaking, who's funding who's campaign.

"I think that's something they need to know, in order to have faith in the system."

That was particularly true of more expensive mayoral campaigns, rather than for smaller contributions to councillors' election bids, she believed.

"Does anyone really care where the $15 came from? ... I think you can get to the point of ridiculousness with it."

Mr Cull said the changes would not affect Cr MacTavish's "Obama-style" fundraising or the wider Greater Dunedin campaign, which was otherwise largely self-funded.

Mr Cull spent $13,517 on his campaign, including just $1500 in donations, which was well behind then-incumbent mayor Peter Chin, who spent $43,446 of his own money on his unsuccessful re-election campaign.

He also believed those prepared to stump up large sums to support Dunedin candidates "probably don't mind if their identity is known".

Cr Vandervis - who came third behind Messrs Cull and Chin in 2010 - spent $8600 and received $2074 in donations.

He declared the source of all donations, and believed others should have to do the same.

Any capped tolerance for anonymous donations would be "just another rule for people to weasel around", he said.

"People can want anonymity until they go blue in the face ... Having things not able to be anonymous I think would be ideal."

The Local Electoral Act set campaign spending limits based on population, and in Dunedin meant mayoral candidates were limited to $55,000 and city councillor candidates in the central ward to $50,000.

Candidates had to declare all expenses and campaign income following each election, including the names of each donor and the amount given.

However, anonymous donations were also allowed, and needed only to be declared - with the source listed as anonymous - if the amount received was more than $1000, the Act said.

The changes announced by Mr Carter would see a new Local Electoral Amendment Bill introduced to Parliament within weeks, and changes in place ahead of next year's local body elections in October.


Conflicts list proposed
Dunedin city councillors could soon be asked to declare their conflicts of interest in a new register.

Dunedin City Council staff are considering a new voluntary register that would invite the city's elected representatives to declare the businesses in which they had a stake, the boards they sat on or any other relevant interests.

Dunedin City Council governance manager Sandy Graham said initial discussions were under way, and although no decisions had yet been made, the new system could be in place later this year.

The system would be based on one implemented by the Wellington City Council, which listed the council appointments and business interests of each member and their partner or spouse.


- chris.morris@odt.co.nz

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