The Herald’s revelation on Saturday that more than 800 donors face charges for breaches of NSW requirements for disclosure of political donations suggests not, as per the article, that NSW’s donation reporting system is “a shambles” but that there is considerable confusion about what is required to be reported. Especially when a further 900 may also be facing questions.

1700 firms and individuals – including some the biggest companies and highest profile people in the country – do not normally set out to break the law. Rather, the vast number of breaches have arisen from the fact that many donors have assumed that by reporting their donations to the Australian Electoral Commission, they have fulfilled their responsibilities, when in fact they are required under NSW law to also report to the NSW Election Funding Authority..

Even more confusing, the NSW threshold for reporting political donations is $1500, while at a Federal level, since December 2005 it has been $10,000, indexed. You can bet a large number of donors didn’t think, courtesy of the much-publicised changes in the Federal laws, that they were under any obligation to report their donations, if they were below $10,000.

According to the material available at the NSW Election Funding Authority, the following companies and individuals failed to disclose donations which have been reported by the beneficiaries:

Bill Caralis’s 2SM
Ainsworth Gaming and Len Ainsworth himself
Allco Finance
Insurer AAMI
Bovis/Lend Lease
Lobbyist outfit CPR
Local freebie publisher Cumberland Papers
James Hardie Holdings
Peak body Tourism and Transport Forum
Seven CEO David Leckie
Manpower Services
Dairy Farmers
NSW Farmers’ Association
Happy-clapper caffeine outfit Gloria Jeans

Many of these firms did report federally – including 2SM, Allco, BHP, CPR, Pfizer, James Hardie, Gloria Jean’s. But a number didn’t – including Ainsworth and David Leckie, who didn’t disclose his donation to the Liberal Party. NRMA reported federally, but Brett Gale, then-head of NRMA Corporate Affairs, former NSW Labor staffer and now Chief of Staff to Assistant Treasurer Chris Bowen presumably should’ve known what the rules were.

Our old friends at Beijing Austchina also reported federally, as did other Chinese donors, including Kingold, bankers Mingsheng and gambling tycoon and Rudd pal Stanley Ho. But all missed their NSW reporting obligations. Ditto Emirates Air and Gulf Air.

All of these companies pay good money to lawyers and government relations execs to get this sort of thing right. But the widespread failure to do so suggests there is a real need to establish uniform political donation rules, at least for disclosure, across the country, instead of the confusing hotchpotch of requirements currently tripping donors up.

The most peculiar omission is of a donation to the National Party. John Hartigan has been leading the Right To Know campaign in favour of greater openness and transparency on the part of government. Yet according to the National Party’s donation return, News Ltd made two donations to the party in September 2006 totally $14,300, donations it has failed to disclose itself, at either a State or Federal level.

Why would News donate to the NSW National Party? Maybe the Nats got confused. Maybe it was Ewes Ltd. Or maybe News will have to cop a fine of up to $11,000, along with any number of other big businesses.