I’ve been looking at donations to New Zealand political parties in recent years, for a variety of reasons.
Party funding is one of the perennial topics of politics, mostly because of one pretty fundamental concern, which is that donations can buy influence and access. Modern political parties cost a lot of money to run, and rely heavily on private donations, so it seems highly likely that parties will be very sensitive to the needs of people who give them money.
And if certain people are more able than others to give to parties, as is the case in a New Zealand where inequality of income is much greater than it was 30 years ago, then it is highly likely they will have more influence over politics than others, which goes fundamentally against the idea of a democratic society where everyone has an equal voice.
So, I’ve taken the Electoral Commission’s annual summaries of party donations, which the parties have to declare (as total amounts) in bands of $1500-5,000 and $5000-15,000, and (as total amounts, and with the names of donors) $15,000 and over. I’ve looked at donations for 2011-16 because that covers two electoral cycles (two election years and four non-election years) and because the data for earlier years is harder to work with.
The results are in the table below. As you can see, National dominates the fundraising stakes, while donations over $15,000 make up half of all donations to parties. The latter point raises concerns that the parties are, if not reliant on individual wealthy donors, certainly reliant on wealthy donors as a class.
It is technically possible that many of the donations over $15,000 come not from the wealthy but from organisations such as trade unions. I’ll be going through the parties’ returns of donations in more detail shortly to check out that hypothesis, but we know already from the declarations of donations over $30,000 that very few of them come from unions, so it would be surprising if the hypothesis were true.
It’s also possible that the Green Party’s large number of donations over $15,000 is influenced by tithing (paying a percentage of their salary) by their MPs. Again, a closer look will confirm that.
As a final technical note, in 2012 my calculations of the party donations don’t match those of the Electoral Commission for three parties: ACT, Democrats Social Credit, and the Green Party. I’ll check that divergence with the commission, but in any case, it isn’t enough to materially affect the results.
For those deeply interested, the donations summaries from the Commission, and my workings, are in the spreadsheet below.