John Banks trial: why split the $50K cheque? Two unflattering theories
A reader asked: why did John Banks allegedly ask Kim Dotcom to split his $50,000 donation into two $25,000 cheques?
Why bother, given the law at the time had no threshold for anonymous donations. Sky City's cheque to Mr Banks, whose anonymous status was also in dispute, was for a less amount ($15,000). A candidate simply had to report donour's identity, if they knew it.
John Banks' judge-only, 10 day trial is still trying to establish the truth behind this and other issues.
$25K cheques from all-comers = easier to claim donations anonymous
I put the reader question to Otago University Law Professor Andrew Geddis, who told NBR ONLINE, "I think we heard the answer in Banks' treasurer's testimony.
"He told the Court that they targeted a bunch of people for $25,000, with Banks going out personally to ask people for this.
"Those donors would then send in the cheques to the campaign, rather than give them to Banks in person."
So long as Banks doesn't 'know' that any given person actually followed through on their promise to him and gave the $25,000 — because the campaign treasurer [Lance Hutchison] won't tell him who did — then he can treat the donation as being 'anonymous' in nature, Prof Geddis says.
The law at the time allowed you to play this game, the Otago acadmeic says. It defined 'anonymous' simply as the recipient not knowing for certain if any particular donation came from any particular person.
"So if the return of donations then shows a whole bunch of $25,000 donations coming from 'anonymous'' sources, he can plausibly claim 'I don't know which (if any) of those particular $25,000 gifts came from the people I was asking for $25,000'.
"If Dotcom's $50,000 comes in as one big amount after he's told Banks that this is what he intends giving, then Banks can't really say he doesn't 'know' where it came from; it'll sit out on its own in the return. But if it's two lots of $25,000, then how can Banks "know" if Dotcom really did give it, or someone else?," Prof Geddis says.
"That is my reading of what happened — assuming it did happen like Dotcom says it did. Why else would he split otherwise?"
An alternative theory: image management
Otago University political science lecturer and commentater Bryce Edwards offers a companion theory.
"I’d say it was simply about image management rather than necessarily evading any electoral regulations," he tells NBR.
If it was true that Banks asked Dotcom to split the donations, the politician might have been keen to make his official donation disclosure look better in the public eye.
"Campaigning politicians and parties always like to convey a sense that their political finances are made up of smaller donations from a variety of sources — it appears more democratic. It’s not a good look to be in the receipt of just a few very large donations," Dr Edwards says.
"When this happens, this suggests it politicians might be beholden to wealthy donors, and in general it makes the politician or party appear to be representing wealth rather than the common voter.
"The smaller the donation figures declared by politicians, the fewer questions asked about them."
Unless, of course, you annoy a giant German when he phones you from Mt Eden Prison, then he decides to go public about his gifts.