“Dangerous territory for Little”

Andrew Little’s insinuations of impropriety that implicate the Scenic Hotels company and Niue resort trust and board members have ventured into dangerous territory according to Tracey Watkins in Smoke and fire or smoke and mirrors?

Little is right when he says that it is his role as Opposition leader to ask questions when a big political donor is awarded Government contracts.

But suggesting it “stinks to high heaven” takes things to a different level.

Even if there hadn’t been a number of steps between the minister and the decision to award the contract, Little’s claim appears to rest on the assumption that everyone involved in the process – from senior diplomats, to government agencies and senior politicians – was either swayed by the donation, or leaned on by the minister.

In the absence of a whistle blower, or any documentation, leaked emails or other evidence so far to support that view, that’s a pretty serious accusation. Seemingly, it relies solely on the fact that Hagaman donated money to the National Party.

This is dangerous territory for Little.

Directly getting involved in dirty politics – making serious insinuations but having little or no evidence of impropriety – might have been standard tactics for a blogger but is dangerous territory for a major party leader.

Political donations are a murky area and it is easy to score quick political hits off those who make them. The number of donors appearing in the yearly list of knights and dames makes most of us cynical about both regimes. So too the number of corporates who regularly show up as political donors. People would more likely believe in the tooth fairy than think you can get something for nothing, particularly from politicians. So suspicion, particularly about policies benefiting party donors, is healthy.

For sure.

But our donations regime is at least more transparent than it once was. If anything, the Hagaman donation proves the disclosure regime is working as intended.

Little hasn’t revealed any political secrets, he has pointed out two publicly known dots and suggested they are joined.

So Little was right to ask the question but wrong to leap to judgement before the Auditor General decides even whether to take a look.

If every big donation is going to be decried as dodgy there seem to be only two alternatives – either barring donors from tendering for Government contracts, which is probably unworkable, or a fully state funded regime, which is where the first option ultimately leads anyway, given the inevitable drying up of campaign funds.

But State funding opens a whole other can of worms, one that comes at a cost of tens of millions of dollars to taxpayers.

It’s also just as likely to become a football and just as open to abuse.

Anyone who doubts that should cast their mind back to the Labour pledge card scandal of a few years back.

Which is the other problem with where Little may be going.

The public’s suspicion about wealthy donors is probably only rivalled by their scepticism over politicians putting their hands out for more money.

So what were the reasons for Little’s attack?

Was it an attempt to scare donors away from  National?

Is it a sign that Labour are struggling to get donations from companies so don’t care about scaring them off political donations?

Or was it just an attempted political hit job? To try and plant seeds of bad political perceptions? Or a gamble, hoping that something might be flushed out of the woodwork?