John Banks didn't breach the Local Electoral Act, because he doesn't bother reading the legal declarations that get put in front of him. It's lucky he doesn't have an important job or anything ... .

I'm not all that surprised at the Police's decision not to prosecute John Banks over his blatantly false donation report following the 2010 Auckland mayoral campaign. Basically, the Local Electoral Act provisions requiring disclosure of the identity of donors are so weak as to be nearly voluntary (as our national electoral laws used to be, back before the much-maligned Electoral Finance Act 2007 tightened things up). And as I said here:

...if [Banks] didn't know of the false return (i.e. it can be shown that it was someone in his campaign that wrongly reported the donation as anonymous and he didn't realise the mistake was made), then at most Mr Banks may be in line for a small fine.

Actually, that last bit of that sentence was wrong ... I'd overlooked the 6 month time limit on bringing prosecutions for unwittingly filing a false return (which it's pretty clear the Police think Banks did). But once Banks found someone to take the blame for misstating the nature of the donations he received (i.e. by describing them as "anonymous", rather than listing their actual source), then he could credibly claim that the false return wasn't a result of a "knowing" misrepresentation. Which gets him off the hook for the more serious offence for which he could still be prosecuted, and had he been convicted of would have resulted in his having to leave Parliament.

That said, let's just note what we're left with at the end of the Police's investigation. We know John Banks went around wealthy people and companies getting donations in the five figures. The Police clearly are of the opinion he did so in full knowledge they were giving him this significant support. But he then signed a document purporting to accurately declare who had given him the money for his campaign apparently without even reading it, but simply after asking the volunteer who put it together "you're sure this is accurate?"

OK. This story gets him off the hook legally. But, you know ... this guy presently is a Minister of the Crown, holding responsibility for Regulatory Reform and Small Business, as well as being the Associate Minister of Commerce and Associate Minister of Education.

And he doesn't even read the things that get put in front of him.

Comments (11)

by Graeme Edgeler on July 26, 2012
Graeme Edgeler

You picked it. Well done.

I had my money on the police finding Banks didn't *know* who gave him the money, not that he knew who gave him the money and just didn't know he wasn't declaring it.

by Andrew Geddis on July 26, 2012
Andrew Geddis

Actually, that would have been my pick, too ... and quite why Banks didn't structure things to allow that claim to be made (which could have been so easily done) seems odd. In fact, the whole thing is pretty bizarre.

by Graeme Edgeler on July 26, 2012
Graeme Edgeler

quite why Banks didn't structure things to allow that claim to be made (which could have been so easily done) seems odd.

Because he always had the intention of following the law?

If he actually wanted to know the names of donors and no declare them, he should have used a Trust like Len Brown did.

by Andrew Geddis on July 26, 2012
Andrew Geddis

Because he always had the intention of following the law?

Which would explain why he asked Dotcom to split his donation into 2 lots of $25,000 ... right?

But as I say, a smart campaigner would have structured his campaign so as to take advantage of the many ways "faceless" donations can be received without getting into anything like the tangle Banks did. His worst crime, it seems to me, is to appear hopelessly amatuerish.

by Graeme Edgeler on July 26, 2012
Graeme Edgeler

Which would explain why he asked Dotcom to split his donation into 2 lots of $25,000 ... right?

I'm not sure anything can explain that.

But as I say, a smart campaigner would have structured his campaign so as to take advantage of the many ways "faceless" donations can be received without getting into anything like the tangle Banks did. His worst crime, it seems to me, is to appear hopelessly amatuerish.

I'd have thought publicly telling NZers that he didn't know Sky had donated to his campaign when the police claim they can prove he knew because a donation was directly handed to him was up there as a possibility.

by Andrew Geddis on July 27, 2012
Andrew Geddis

"... the police claim they can prove he knew because a donation was directly handed to him was up there as a possibility."

Well - they claim they can prove he was handed an envelope. In which a cheque for $15000 sat. But maybe Banks just thought they were giving him stationary, and it wasn't until he gave it to a "volunteer" on his campaign that the cheque was discovered, only for another volunteer to later mislabel the gift as "anonymous" ... .

Alternatively, the story (actually, stories) that Banks has concocted here may give us reason to doubt his veracity.

by mickysavage on July 27, 2012
mickysavage

One possibility is that Banks did not understand the law at the time he signed the declaration.  He may have thought that anonymity was something a donor could claim rather than a state of mind the candidate had to have.

 

But again you would have to wonder about how someone showing this level of understanding and competence got to be a Cabinet Minister.

by Andrew Geddis on July 27, 2012
Andrew Geddis

mickeysavage,

I don't think that would have got him off - ignorance of the law is no excuse, and all that - and it doesn't seem to be the story he told. Rather, he genuinely seems to have said "I never looked at the return, just asked then signed." 

If a candidate could evade responsibilty for "knowingly" filing a false return by saying "I didn't know what the law was", that would create a rather perverse incentive!

by Conorjoe on August 01, 2012
Conorjoe

Has any member asked the P.M in the house how he can have confidence - and hold to the highest standard a Crown Minister who - on national television et al repeatedly tells the country that he can't remember things ( which are then shown to him -him toasting at parties, celebrating after fireworks etc- basic things ). Is it a medical problem? Is he going ga ga? 

 

by Ross on August 01, 2012
Ross

The fact remains that Banks lied to the PM and to the public. He said he didn't solicit donations when in fact he did. That sort of conduct should see him booted out of Parliament.

 

by stuart munro on August 01, 2012
stuart munro

Fact is, NZ MPs should give up the title honourable. They're simply not.

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