Recently disclosed donations to the Greens totaling $180,000 illustrate that the party now has some significant financial backers. In fact although the Green Party had rather humble early years, it is increasingly well-funded and has even received some surprisingly large donations – including some in the past from controversial British millionaire and conservative environmentalist Edward Goldsmith. Not only is the party becoming more respectable, trimming many of its remaining leftish policies, it’s also becoming more professionalised and generally more representative of its wealthier voters. Yet, more than anything, the party is still totally reliant on its backdoor parliamentary funding to stay afloat. [Read more below]
The Greens' wealthy backers
Since 1996 when donation disclosure became mandatory for political gifts above $10,000, the Green Party has declared a total of $624,394. On top of this, an additional $180,000 of $20K+ donations have been declared so far during 2008. These latest figures are detailed in the returns of party donations exceeding $20,000 required to be filed with the Electoral Commission within 10 working days of the receipt of the donation – as required under the Electoral Finance Act.
Making up the $180,000 are the following donors:
- Stuart Bramhall - $57,276
- Christopher Marshall - $44,571
- Jeanette Fitzsimons - $34,611
- Bryan Forde - $24,750
- Sue Kedgley - $21,792
David Farrar has commented on Kiwiblog: ‘Interesting that along with ACT, the Greens are the party of big money - not just small $50 donations. That is $180,000 they have had in from just five donors. They are fortunate to have such wealthy party members’.
So, who are these recent donors? Stuart Bramhall is a New Plymouth Green Party activist. Christopher Marshall is a resident of Kaiapoi. And Bryan Forde is an Invercargill Audiologist.
But it is not only in 2008 that the Greens have received large donations from wealthy individuals. In 1999, Craig Palmer of Wellington donated $15,400. In the same year, Peter Kraus of the Bay of Islands gave $20,000 – but it’s not clear if this ‘Peter Kraus’ is the same as the British environmentalist ‘Peter Kraus’ who has stood in elections for the Green Party of UK. In 2007 the Clinical Head of Pathology at Hutt Hospital, Cliff Mason, gave $13,000. Mason had previously stood for the party as a candidate in Hutt South in 1999.
Trade unions occasionally gift to the Greens as well. The EPMU gave $5000 in both 2002 and 2005. The National Distribution Union has been a bit more generous – donating $16,000 in 2005.
And although the Greens have often railed against the influence of anonymous donations to the Labour and National parties, it’s worth noting that in both 1999 and 2005 the Greens received $20,000 from a so-called anonymous source.
One of the Greens’ more interesting benefactors is the British ecologist Edward Goldsmith. ‘Teddy’ Goldsmith is the man who founded The Ecologist magazine in 1969 and the Green Party in the UK in 1972. Goldsmith is variously listed as a millionaire and billionaire, but he certainly comes from a very rich family with a background in banking catering to the British oligarchy, and who are closely intermarried with the legendary Rothchild dynasty. His nephew (and also co-Editor of The Ecologist) is Zac Goldsmith, who is a leading British environmentalist and darling of David Cameron’s Conservative Party, of which he has been a candidate. And like his nephew, Edward Goldsmith has rather conservative views. For decades he has promoted a rather totalitarian ecological worldview in which he makes a plea for a green policy that will re-establish a ‘natural social order’ and ‘the traditional relations between people’. This normally includes an argument for cutting the population by 50%, repatriating immigrants, and establishing small-scale communities. According to his entry on Wikipedia, ‘Goldsmith's variant of environmentalism has put him at odds with the current left-wing British Green Party but has won him support among members of the Conservative Old Right’.
In 2002 Goldsmith gave $25,000. Then in 2005, in his role as the trustee of the fortune of his late brother Sir James Goldsmith, he donated a further $12,000 via the JMG Foundation.
Ethical donations policy
The Green Party claims to have an ethical donations policy, which means that the party doesn’t accept money from unsavoury sources. The late Rod Donald claimed that in 2002 the Greens returned two cheques worth a combined $20,000 to would-be corporate donors. One was from Auckland's Sky City and the other from a mining company: ‘We said: “no thanks”. In the case of gambling we don't want to run our campaign using the profits of misery. In the case of the mining company, we don't want to run our campaign on the profits of environmental destruction’ (quoted in Vaughan, 2003: p.7).
Green fundraiser Danna Glendining has also said that the party is picky over which corporate donations it accepts (O'Sullivan and Small, 29 Jun 2002).
Rod Donald informed the Independent newspaper that‘The Greens don't, however, have a problem with corporate donations per se’ (20 August 2003). Interestingly, this contrasts with the Australian Greens, who apparently ‘refuse corporate donations’ (Small, 12 Apr 2002). In New Zealand the Greens have very happily taken the corporate money of Westpac, Telecom, Ericsson, Clear and Macquarie Bank (Vaughan, 2003: p.7).
Green Co-convenor David Clendon declared in 2002 that, ‘We have had donations from some quite large corporate donors’ (quoted in Guyon Espiner, 2002a: p.C2). According to Clendon, the ‘business community now acknowledge the Greens as a potentially influential force and some have responded by reaching for their chequebooks’ (ibid).
The fundraising focus of the Greens has definitely shifted away from their membership or their average voter. In 1998, co-convener Christine Dann said that the party had previously ‘relied on the $5 and $10 in the past. We need to be more outward looking’ (NZPA, 1 Jun 1998). Instead she advocated that the party should seek donations of $1000 from the ‘middle class with a conscience’ (NZPA, 1 Jun 1998). According to the news report, Dann ‘had researched the average incomes of Green members and supporters and found incomes were not so high the party could keep asking them for money’ (NZPA, 1 Jun 1998).
In light of the Greens’ increasing wealth based on business donations, it’s not surprising therefore that in 2008, for the first time, the party has put out a business policy, and one that is very sympathetic to New Zealand business. On launching the policy, ex-lefty Sue Bradford stated, ‘A lot of those people that support the Greens and are in the party are businesspeople’. Furthermore, ‘We care about New Zealand business just as we care about workers’ jobs – because they go together’ – See TVNZ: Greens co-leader Sue Bradford on their business vision for NZ (3:58).
The Green Party expects its MPs to contribute about 9% of their salary. Party members are expected to sign a contract promising to supply the ‘tithe’ to the party before they can be accepted as a Green candidate. This money helps operate the extra-parliamentary party and fund general election campaigns.
For this reason its MPs are sometimes included in the party’s donation disclosures to the Electoral Commission – when the tithes and donations amount to more than the threshold of $10,000.
In some years, nearly half of the party’s regular income therefore came from the tithes and donations from its MPs – about $100,000 a year. This increased in 2007, following the Auditor-General’s report which highlighted the Green’s illegal expenditure during the 2005 election. The Green MPs contributed to the payback by donating $118, 876. Jeanette Fitzsimons contributed the most – $34,045.28.
The Green Party MPs also own a superannuation scheme, called the Green Futures Superannuation Fund, which invests their MPs parliamentary retirement income. In 2001 the fund owned a house in Thorndon and two apartments on The Terrace, which it rented back to the MPs, who ‘then claim the rent and approved outgoings back from Parliamentary Service under the Wellington accommodation allowance of up to $16,000 a year’ (Young, 2001a).
Low cost campaigns and votes
The Greens are a parliamentary party that is not traditionally resource-rich, and it’s only recently that the Greens have had access to significant wealth. The party gains very little increase from its membership base. Green Party membership only costs $5, and therefore the party’s 3000+ members in 2008 would only generate about $15,000 through fees.
For many years the party operated on a very low income. For instance, in 1992 when it was part of the Alliance it was revealed that the party had an annual budget of only $12,487 after making contributions to the Alliance (James, 1992f: p.11). Before it went solo the party contributed levies to the Alliance of $23,361 in 1997 and $15,628 in 1998.
Prior to the party’s first post-Alliance general election campaign, however, the finances of the Greens were reported to be in a very poor state, with Rod Donald saying that by the end of 1998 ‘there was little money in the bank’ (Donald, 2000: p.50). Fitzsimons also warned ‘delegates to their Dunedin conference that fund raising was still “virtually non-existent” and large parts of the country had no active branches’ (NZPA, 1 Jun 1998).
The Greens had a total income of only $300,000 in 1999 (Small, 2002a), and in the election campaign spent a mere $279,168 (including $43,250 of state funding for broadcast advertising). The following year the party’s income dropped to just $145,000 (Small, 2001b).
The low-cost election campaigns of the Greens have added weight to the idea that a lack of financial resources is no insurmountable barrier to electoral success.
In its first election, in 1990, the newly-formed party had virtually no money to spend at a national level, and candidates had little time to raise money for their local contests. Despite this, the Greens received 6.3 percent of the national vote, and averaged about 8.9 percent in the electorates in which they fielded candidates.
In their next ‘solo election’ of 1999, the Greens obtained 5.2% of the party vote and therefore achieved a respectable cost per vote of $2.62 (which compared very favourably, for example, to the Alliance’s $5.88 per vote).
In its first decade of existence, the Green Party’s low income meant that it was forced to develop alternative means of communication and persuasion – this was especially evident at the 1999 election campaign. It therefore concentrated on traditional campaign methods such as town hall meetings, canvassing, leafleting, etc. And despite it’s little money to spend in 1999, the party still managed to put up over 1,200 billboards throughout the country (Donald, 2000: p.54).
Becoming a big-spending party
By 2002 the Green Party was larger and financially better off. Reflecting this, in the leadup to the election, the campaign manager Cate Faehrmann declared, ‘We are well-resourced enough to run a good campaign’ (Small, 12 Apr 2002). The party ended up being the fourth highest spender – $765,035 (including $166,930 of state funding for broadcast advertising). Most of the money raised came from business, with Green fundraiser Danna Glendining stated that the Greens expected to raise $500,000 from businesses (O'Sullivan and Small, 29 Jun 2002).
In 2005 the Greens rose to be the third biggest spenders, even outspending the Act party for the first time. The party spent $792,842 (yet the party actually lost 22,000 votes).
It seems that regardless of the amount the party spends on its campaign – virtually nothing in 1990, or close to a million in 2005 – the party always gets around 6% of the vote.
Parliamentary state funding & professionalisation
Overshadowing its business sources of income, the Greens have gained significant state resources from Parliament. The Green Party has the fourth highest number of staff, with 6 executive secretaries, the equivalent of 6 electorate agents, and about 12 working in the parliamentary offices on media, policy, research and administration. (By comparison, the Green Party head office employs just 2).
In the 2008/09 year the party is budgeted to receive $864,000 in Party and Members’ funding. On top of this, the party also receives further funding from Ministerial Services, because of the Greens’ responsibilities in the Labour-led Government.
Such backdoor state funding has become crucial for this minor party. Therefore the Green Party is probably the most ‘efficient’ user of the funding that it obtains from the Parliamentary Service. It uses the funds in the most political way that it can get away with, and diverts the funds, where possible, for use in activities to organise the extra-parliamentary party.
By providing generous funding to the parties in Parliament to employ professional staff, the state makes the parties more professional-oriented, strengthening the position of party professionals by assuring their livelihood, and further creating a distance between the parties and the electorate. The locus of power has thus shifted within the parties, and certain individuals within the parliamentary staff have now emerged as key players in party affairs.
The party clearly has access to a whole host of state-funded parliamentary resources that it can employ throughout both the parliamentary cycle and its election campaigns.
Obviously this state funding has increased the professionalisation of the Greens. The essential functions in modern elections are provided by the media advisers, opinion polling experts, and advertising experts and general parliamentary staff employed out of state funding. In part, therefore, it is the evolution of modern communications that makes the old-style party headquarters somewhat redundant. Even overtly extra-parliamentary activities are therefore largely organised by parliamentary staff. For example, parliamentary staff commonly organise, attend, and carry out duties at party conferences as part of their parliamentary job.
The Green Party’s official blog site, Frogblog, is produced with funding from the Parliamentary Service. It’s written and managed by the parliamentary communication staff in the Greens’ office.
The Greens’ parliamentary office also publishes email newsletters – such as Justpeace, which is put together by both party activists and parliamentary staff. Similarly, the Green Party used parliamentary funding to manufacture hundreds of ‘No War, Just Peace’ placards during protests against the war in Iraq (NZPA, 2003o).
Parliamentary allowances also involve significant amounts of money – for example, the commercial accommodation night allowance pays up to $160 per night for accommodation when the MP is away from home ($180 per night in Auckland).
Also, during the modern election campaigns parliamentary staff are routinely on the strategy committees of parties as part of their parliamentary jobs. For example, the Green Party’s 2002 campaign committee included their parliamentary media chief Allen Walley and parliamentary researcher Roland Sapsford (Guyon Espiner, 2002a: p.C2), once again, both paid for by the state. In the campaign the Greens’ media staff are in charge of reading the political pulse of the electorate.
The Parliamentary Service has very lax rules for such purposes, but even these rules were found to be [crossed] by the Greens when the Auditor-General surveyed the use of Parliamentary Service funds for the three months leading up to the 2005 general election. In this short period, in publications and advertising alone, the Greens had misused $80,900 of taxpayer funding.
It is also worth noting the increasingly generous state broadcasting advertising allocations that the Green Party has been able to claim over the years (despite it’s popular support barely shifting):
The Influence on internal Green Party configurations
Through providing funding to the parties the state has a significant influence on the internal configurations of political parties. The Green Party is not immune from this, with the power of the parliamentary leadership being strengthened at the expense of the extra-parliamentary organization and the membership. The reliance on the state increases the autonomy of the Green Party leadership and had reduced the power of the ‘membership strike’ or departure. This has left policy making in the hands of the parliamentary party. With over worked MPs, it has sometimes been the case that the parliamentary unit has filled the void.
The increase in state funding over recent years has clearly made political parties less reliant on their extra-parliamentary party for research and other staff-related assistance and therefore more reliant on the parliamentary professionals.
In contrast, the Green Party members have had a decreasing role to play. The effectiveness of professionalisation means that it is far better for a party to put the bulk of its resources into electoral-related activity than party-building. In general, both the national office and the membership still have a role in the campaign – but not the central role they once had. While they still might carry out much of the logistical operations of the campaign, they do not generally have the actual control over decision-making that they once possessed. In a sense, then, the extra-parliamentary organisations are now akin to ‘service organisations’ carrying out the demands of the party professionals and politicians in Parliament.
The increasing reliance on parliamentary resources instead of membership resources is also a key element of the transition of the Greens from a party of ideas towards a caucus of politicians focused on office-seeking goals. Previously, the Green Party could not afford to hire much professional labour and, therefore, offered members policy promises in exchange for their involvement. It is partly for this reason that the party used to be more marked by ideology. In contrast, the new highly-professionalised Green Party is generally more able to rely on professional labour, thereby avoiding the exchange relationship with the membership.
It is often from Parliament that the Green Party now creates policy, communicate with voters and members, create strategy, fundraises, and researches material for policy. The extra-parliamentary organisations still play a part in holding annual conferences, but these have changed a great deal, and are, more than ever, showpieces for the parliamentary wing to court the media. That the conferences are forums empty of any decision-making politics is illustrated by the fact that discussion and voting on remits now forms only a minor part of the agendas.
Conclusions: the opaqueness of Green Party finances
Despite pushing heavily for transparency in the political financial arrangements of New Zealand parties, the Greens are somewhat less than open as to their own finances. Researching the details of the Greens’ finances is one of the more difficult tasks in political finance in this country. In this sense the party is almost on a similar level to New Zealand First.
This raises the question of whether the Greens be trusted to declare their donations? Certainly the rules are very open to abuse and avoidance. So in terms of whether the Green Party receives large or dodgy donations, it should be kept in mind that there were many ways to get around the donation disclosure regime of the Electoral Act (just as there are many easy ways of getting around the new EFA). Therefore the public shouldn’t give too much credence to the figures supplied annual to the Electoral Commission for any party.
What’s more, the scandal over the donations to Winston Peters and New Zealand First show that the political parties that claim to be the most clean and claim to be the most in favour of transparency can actually turn out to be the worst in practice. It is therefore interesting that the Greens have taken over NZ First as the party most likely to make allegations and raise questions about unethical political finance.
Even as recently as last weekend, the Greens were raising questions about whether Labour and National are correctly following the law about donation disclosure. Yet the Greens should be open to similar queries. In the 2002 election the party tripled it’s election expenditure to $765,035, but declared only $86,000 in donations! By the party’s own logic, it has some explaining to do.
But opaqueness aside, the more important points to take out of examining the political finances of the Greens is that the party has been a very good example of the idea that a lack of capital resources is no insurmountable barrier to electoral success. But it’s subsequent transformation into a highly-professional electoral party based on parliamentary and business funding should raise questions about its political nature.