It’s not personal, it’s just business

Via Radio NZ:

The Labour Party has asked the Auditor-General to investigate the awarding of a resort management contract in Niue to one of the National Party’s biggest donors.

It’s easy to see why Labour (and the Auditor-General) would be concerned about the situation. Man gives National Party money, National Party makes decisions which return massive profits and big chunks of public money to man.

jurassic park dinosaurs eat man

But I just feel jaded.

This isn’t corruption. This is how the world works.

There are a few obviously dodgy parts of this story. Like the idea that Murray McCully, a man with the nickname “Prince of Darkness” and the reputation for literally knowing everything about everyone in the National Party, didn’t know at least the name of the person who was the party’s second-biggest donor in 2014.

But the rest? Perfectly plausible. Because the powers that be don’t have to be openly corrupt to get things done the way they want. They’re the powers that be, after all. You don’t have to cheat when you write the rules.

It’s enough to give a big wad of cash to a political party because you really do support them. Then maybe you get invited to drinks or dinner or a fundraiser and shake a lot of hands, and later on the owner of one of those hands is in charge of making a decision about whether your company gets a contract. Maybe the tenders are all pretty similar, but you’re the guy who the decision-maker can put a face to, so they unconsciously favour you. Or maybe your tender is the “best” because you’re the kind of person who gives $100,000 to a political party so you’re also the kind of person who has cognac on the regular with people who are in the know. It’s not insider trading, nothing that obvious, maybe just a few passing comments about the economic situation or who else is looking at putting in a bid. It’s not cheating, it’s just a well-timed wink.

And maybe the government pours millions in aid funding into the business venture you’re profiting from, not because Murray McCully specifically wants to help you get richer, just because pouring money into rich people’s businesses overseas is a perfectly normal part of how this government does business. Heck, this resort might actually benefit our national interests, unlike that sheep farm in the desert.

Now if you’re an incredibly wealthy hotel developer, that’s the kind of policy you like, so it makes perfect sense you’d donate large sums of money to a party which will deliver it. You don’t have to make demands or extract specific promises. That would be bribery. This is just facilitation.

No one went into this thinking “I’m going to help Earl Hagaman finally hit that $200 million net worth milestone.” No one in Murray McCully’s office picked up the phone and said “Give Earl that contract” or “Let’s direct our aid funding to Earl’s resort in Niue.”

No one had to. Because this isn’t corruption. It’s the system working as intended.


After I’d drafted this I noted a very on-point tweet from @ShakingStick:

So maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the Tories are protesting too much. It could be an interesting week in politics.

John Key has funny ideas about what fundraising means

I caught our esteemed Prime Minister on Firstline this morning, looking defensive over revelations that he attended a fundraising dinner at Donghua Liu’s house a mere two years ago.

Besides his snippy refusal to give any details – acting like “it was at his house” is a minor detail on par with “did we have fish or chicken” – the truly interesting thing was this:

I personally don’t involve myself in fundraisers, if you like, in terms of the sense of raising money; I never talk to people about money, I don’t receive donations, wouldn’t have had a clue basically how much he and the other guests were giving, whether it was a lot or nothing – I just go to a series of dinners.

Ah yes, from time to time I go to dinners, and from time to time people pay an awful lot of money to my political party to go to those dinners too. The fundraising aspects are obviously nothing to do with Key, and in fact he’d totally go to Donghua Liu’s house even if there weren’t fundraising going on!

… Actually I’m not sure if that line would make it better or worse.

This is the spin we were also meant to accept over National’s dodgy little Cabinet Clubs – that the Ministers who attended, who were advertised as attending, and who spoke to high-paying donors about their portfolio areas, at events called Cabinet Clubs, were somehow not really involved in fundraising in their ministerial capacity.

But maybe the Prime Minister should be a little more careful about these farcical distinctions, given how well they worked out for John Banks, who seemed to be under the impression that if he didn’t actually open the envelope, he can’t possibly be expected to know what it contained.

I don’t know if state funding of political parties is the answer to this; but we can at least stop talking politicians seriously when they’re openly disingenuous about why people pay a lot of money to attend events at which they’re the main event.