Political donations and conflicts of interest

Danyl has some thought-provoking comments about the Herald’s analysis of electoral donations:

MPs and other political insiders get really upset if you suggest to them that this is all basically political corruption. Partly this is down to their massive egos. MPs don’t think it’s strange that corporations just give them huge sums of money. Are they not extraordinary individuals? Have they not been chosen by destiny to lead the nation? Related to that is cognitive dissonance. The system around political donations might look totally corrupt, but MPs all know that they personally are not corrupt – how dare anyone suggest that? – so Tallys must just be giving free money to the MPs that happen to sit on the Select Committee that oversees and regulates their industry because they personally believe in those individual MPs.

A lot of it looks pretty dodgy, especially National’s apparent funnelling of larger anonymous donations through party HQ, and the Talleys’ enthusiastic support of people making the laws which affect the Talleys’ business.

But it also led me to reflect on some of the criticisms – from the left and right alike – of Andrew Little and Carmel Sepuloni’s decision that she give up the social development portfolio temporarily while her mother faces charges of benefit fraud.

The same kind of arguments that Danyl outlines were in play – everyone knows Sepuloni is a person of integrity! How can she be held responsible for the actions of her mother? No one would dare accuse her of impropriety!

This is on the one hand rubbish – just look (or don’t!) at how furiously Cameron Slater, of all people, defended Sepuloni, with the exact same arguments. Wouldn’t you know it, just a few days later we got a well-timed story about Sepuloni asking the Minister questions about benefit fraud. Slater’s fury probably has a lot less to do with Due And Fair Process and a lot more to do with whatever additional attack lines he had queued up.

And on the other hand, it’s rubbish again, because that’s not how conflicts of interest work. People in positions of influence don’t get to walk around saying “I’m making decisions about something I have a personal stake in, but I’m a good person so it’s not a problem!” or “But I haven’t done anything corrupt yet so I can’t have a conflict of interest!”

It’s all there in the name: when your interests are in conflict, you have a problem. And the unfortunate reality of our society is that people are judged by what their family members do – otherwise stories about Hone Harawira’s nephew’s conviction or John Key’s daughter’s art would never get the headlines they get. And those aren’t issues where you can make any kind of case that the famous person “involved” has done anything dodgy.

But it does look dodgy as hell when Talleys are pouring money into the primary production select committee. It does look dodgy as hell when Amy Adams as Minister for the Environment is overseeing freshwater management changes which just happen to massively increase the value of her land, or Gerry Brownlee denies there’s a problem with rental prices soaring in Christchurch, where he happens to own four properties.

And it would have been child’s play for the right to make it look dodgy as hell for Sepuloni to stay on as social development spokesperson. They already had the ratf*cking machine up and running and ready to go.

We can’t give our people a free pass just because they’re our people and we know they’d never do anything wrong. And the good ones who have integrity – like Carmel Sepuloni – don’t expect us to.

It’s a temporary situation for Sepuloni, and she’s continuing to do damn fine work in the meantime. The issue of political donations – and how much our political system is influenced by the people with the most money to spare – is going to be far more difficult to change.

What do you reckon?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s