Wednesday, 28 September 2016

NSW Political Donations & Election Funding: over the next six months watch for further mentions buried deep in mainstream newspapers

The Sydney Morning Herald on 30 August 2016 indicated that NSW voters may yet see a number of former state politicians fronting local magistrates in the near future:

Former NSW Liberal MPs have been issued letters of demand to repay potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal donations solicited before the 2011 state election.

As the corruption watchdog prepares to table its report into Liberal Party rorting of political donations laws on Tuesday, Fairfax Media can reveal the NSW electoral commission has issued the demand to some of those caught up in the Operation Spicer inquiry.

The electoral commission has the power to demand repayment of illegal donations. If it is determined that an MP or candidate knew the donation was illegal, they can be forced to repay twice the amount.

An electoral commission spokesman would not release names of those sent the demand, but confirmed it had completed an investigation.

It had "formed the view that sufficient evidence is available to justify recovery action against some of the persons who have received or benefited from unlawful donations, loans or indirect campaign contributions," he said.

"Those persons have been issued with demands for payment. The commission reserves its right to pursue recovery action in the event of non-payment."
It is understood there is some uncertainty over whether the former MPs can be prosecuted under the Election, Funding, Expenditure and Disclosures Act.

The time within which prosecutions can be launched was extended from three to 10 years by Premier Mike Baird in October 2014, but the change only applied to offences committed after that date. The offences in question were committed in 2010.

But there is a question over whether the law could be applied from when they were uncovered by the Independent Commission Against Corruption in 2014 and therefore fall within the original three-year limit…..

The Australian on 31 August 2016 reported that the NSW Liberal Party is still short of funds due to donor identity issues:

The NSW Liberal Party could launch legal action against the NSW Electoral Commission ­if attempts to recover about $4.3 million in withheld campaign funding are unsuccessful.

The party’s state division has been forced to renegotiate millions of dollars in loans taken out from Westpac to cover the shortfall. It is understood division chiefs were hopeful that the findings of Operation Spicer — which found that few within the party’s hierarchy knew about the donations scheme run through the now-­defunct Free Enterprise Foundation — would clear the way for the return of the money.

Instead, it appears the NSW Electoral Commission is continuing to demand the party conduct an audit of all its donations to ­ensure there were no inappropriate third-party donations such as those made through the Free Enterprise Foundation, which took prohibited donations from developers including Brickworks and Elmslea Land Developments.

In a statement, however, the NSW Liberal Party said only that it “continues to work with the NSW Electoral Commission in relation to its 2010-11 return”.

A NSW Electoral Commission spokesman said there had been “no change in relation to the commission’s determination to withhold funding”.

“The party is ineligible for funding on the basis that it has not disclosed the identity of donors for the 2010-11 ­period,” he said. “The party’s eligibility for public funding is not ­related to the ICAC report. Eligibility is prescribed in the Election Funding, Expenditure and Disclosures Act 1981.”

The Daily Telegraph on 22 September 2016 reported that the Liberal Party finally submitted the required donors names and one former Liberal MP has returned $10,000 of the $60,000 in unlawful donations the party received in 2011:

The Liberal Party will get the $3.8 million of the $4.4 million the Electoral Commission withheld from it because of its receipt of illegal donations during the 2011 state election campaign, the Commission has announced in a statement this afternoon.

The Electoral Commission had withheld the money pending what it believed was a proper declaration by the Liberal Party in relation to the illegal developer donations funnelled through the Free Enterprise Foundation and exposed by ICAC.

The Electoral Commission has also announced that it has received a $10,000 payment from former Liberal Charlestown MP Andrew Cornwell, which relates to money he received from developer Jeff McCloy during the 2011 election campaign.

“Following an investigation by inspectors of the NSW Electoral Commission (NSWEC), the NSWEC determined that a number of unlawful donations were made to endorsed candidates of the NSW Liberal Party in the lead up to the 2011 State election.” a statement from the Electoral Commission said.

“This investigation was informed by the Independent Commission Against Corruption’s Operation Spicer.

“One of the matters examined as part of this investigation was a AU$10,000 cash donation for the benefit of former MP Andrew Cornwell.

“That donation was subsequently paid into the account of the Charlestown State Electoral Conference, NSW Liberal Party.

“The NSWEC has the power to take legal action to recover the value of unlawful donations……

On the payment to the Liberal Party, the Commission said: “On 23 March 2016 the NSW Electoral Commission NSWEC determined to withhold almost AU 4.4 million in administrative and election funding from the Liberal Party of Australia, NSW Division (NSW Liberal Party) due to the party’s failure to disclose past donations.

“The donations were primarily made to the party by donors via the Free Enterprise Foundation in the 2010-11 disclosure period.

“On 22 September 2016 the NSWEC determined that a number of these and other undisclosed donations were unlawful and deducted the value of the unlawful donations from the amount of public funding payable to the party.

However ongoing political donation issues are not confined to New South Wales.  North of the Rio Tweed, the Queensland Liberal National Party was reported in the Brisbane Times on 25 September 2016 as having troubles of its own:

A special anti-corruption taskforce has been assigned to investigate claims of dodgy political donations that have embroiled Turnbull government MP Stuart Robert and a Liberal fundraising body he controls.

The investigation comes amid new questions about Mr Robert's connections to property developer Sunland and his support for the company's controversial $600 million plan for two high-rise towers on the Gold Coast.

Mr Robert has admitted his Fadden Forum – a fundraising arm of the Queensland Liberal National Party – was used to secretly bankroll two candidates with $60,000 to run in the March Gold Coast City Council election.

Kristyn Boulton and Felicity Stevenson, who were given $30,000 each, were both members of Mr Robert's staff but ran as independents and did not disclose their Liberal links until after the poll. Ms Boulton was successfully elected while Ms Stevenson failed and returned to Mr Robert's employ.

Political rivals have accused Mr Robert and the LNP of seeking to stack the council by stealth with pro-development councillors.

The Queensland Crime and Corruption Commission this month launched an investigation into the election and has assigned a "specialist team" with political expertise to spearhead the investigation.

It's understood the investigation will seek to examine the provenance of money donated to the Fadden Forum, including suggestions it came from property developers whose involvement was concealed.

One high-profile donor to the Fadden Forum has been Gold Coast developer lobbyist Simone Holzapfel, a former adviser to Tony Abbott, who gave more than $100,000 to the fundraising vehicle.

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