Why National leader Christopher Luxon is against changes to political donation rules aimed at improving transparency

National leader Christopher Luxon is criticising the Government's plans to overhaul New Zealand's political donation rules, saying he can't understand the "rationale" behind the proposed changes.  

In 2021, the Government proposed sweeping changes to the electoral law including lowering the threshold for when political parties have to declare donations from $15,000 to $1500. The changes would also require political parties to make their annual financial statements public. 

The proposal comes as Labour, National and New Zealand First are all facing court cases over donations. But speaking with AM on Wednesday, Luxon said he can't see any reason for the changes. 

"It's pretty simple, we just don't see the need for any change," he told AM host Ryan Bridge. 

"The rule has been a longstanding one, it actually works very well. The system works very well and I think up to $15,000, if people want to give a donation to a political party, like they would a charitable donation or anything else, they should feel free to do that and have some protection from that."

When asked what they would need protection from, Luxon said it could jeopardise people's working relationships, especially with the Government, if their political views were public. 

"It's just about making it simple for people to do that [donate]. Otherwise what you get to, is a place where people might have a relationship with the Government, they may feel they would get punished if they declare their political allegiances one way or another.

"I think we are just acknowledging in New Zealand people have relationships with lots of different people from different political persuasions, in the same way people might give up to $15,000 to a charity or other place, they can do that anonymously if they want to... They can also declare it if they want to."

Luxon said it was entirely appropriate to declare donations above $15,000 but there was no need to lower the threshold. 

"It's been established [the threshold] for a long time so I just don't understand the rationale for the change."

The National leader warned if the threshold was lowered political campaigns might have to be taxpayer-funded. 

"Essentially we want people to be able to give to political parties, whichever one they want to. And the reason for that is very simple, I don't think the public wants a state-funded political campaign. I don't think that's what the public or taxpayers would want to happen at all."

In a statement earlier in the week, National warned only a small proportion of the donors who currently donated between $1500 and $15,000 would still be prepared to do so if they could not remain anonymous. 

A consultation document on the proposed changes, released last year by the Ministry of Justice, said there was "a clear public interest in understanding the potential financial influences on key participants in our democratic system". 

"Recent high-profile incidents involving donations to major political parties or candidates have raised public concerns about the level of transparency in, and complexity of, our donations regime," the document said. 

"Each incident has been different in nature and this suggests there may be a number of vulnerabilities in the current settings that warrant further attention." 

While National isn't in favour, the Green Party is calling for the reform to go further and include a $35,000 annual limit on political donations.

"Democracy is for everyone, not those with the deepest pockets and most people would be shocked to find out that we do not currently have an upper limit on the amount that can be donated to a politician or party. It is time to take big money out of politics," Spokesperson for electoral reform Golriz Ghahraman said. 

"We need a level playing field where every New Zealander has an equal say in our democracy. The Government's proposed changes are welcome. They are changes the Green Party advocated for last term. However, excluding an upper limit is a missed opportunity, which leaves our democracy at risk of big money interference."

Ghahraman said an upper limit would stop wealthy donors from donating to further their interests.

"Most very wealthy donors donate to political parties in order to further certain interests. For example, we have seen overseas that climate action is impeded again and again by big oil interests.

"No one wants an American style of politics in New Zealand. New Zealanders deserve better. A number of democracies we compare ourselves to have firm limits of political donations. In Canada, for example, the maximum someone can donate is capped at $1675."