Are we witnessing the steady drying up of political donations?

According to yesterday’s AEC data, donations fell 60 per cent last year to $93.7 million, with Labor getting $42.9 million and the Liberals $38.4 million, alongside $5.2 million for the Nats. But the complete absence of major corporates like Telstra and BHP Billiton, along with the effects of the GFC, suggests corporate Australia could be preferring to shore up control over the political process in more subtle ways.

While the political donations story was all but ignored by the national broadcaster, the electronic and print media weren’t as charitable, devoting around 50 articles to the release of the data across the nation.

This morning the Liberals revealed that 2008-09 would be the last year it would accept donations from Queensland mining magnate Clive Palmer, following a slapdown from shadow special minister of state Michael Ronaldson. Once again, Palmer’s millions dominated the media coverage, giving the unfortunate impression that Tony Abbott and his state-based counterparts were in thrall to a larger-than-life headkicker.

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According to Ronaldson, Palmer would be free to donate at the proposed new limit of $1,500 next year — or around 0.18% of the amount he’s become accustomed to.

Of course the massive obstacle to significant disclosure and public funding reform are the millions in union affiliation fees enjoyed by state and federal Labor, which topped $5.14 million.

In the 24-hours since the figures were released, Crikey (with the help of some readers) has discovered some interesting entries that have escaped the media’s attention.

In Western Australia, the then State Agent General in London, Noel Ashcroft, at the time a senior career public servant, contributed $25,000 to the WA Liberal Party as his term was coming to an end in the second half of 2008. On his return to Australia in early 2009, he became the chief government relations executive for the troubled Griffin Group, a role which now sees him regularly dealing with the Barnett Government in bail-out and solvency negotiations. Griffin, of course, stumped up $100,000 to both Labor and Liberal in WA.

Also in WA, Schaffer Corporation, the family company of the then State President of the Liberal Party, Danielle Blain, donated $25,000 to the Liberals for their 2008 campaign but also threw in two smaller donations ($2,000 and $3,000) to the ALP.

In Victoria where there is a big law and order campaign against alcohol related violence, the ALP was gifted $13,000 by lobbying firm Res Publica whose main client is Lion Nathan. An alcoholic donation by proxy?

Tasmania received the rough end of the pineapple as both the local ALP and Liberal divisions received the biggest donations from QLD. In the case of the ALP it was $20,000 from the LHMU while Libs benefited to the tune of $50,000 from the ever expanding wealth of Clive Palmer. The other interesting Apple Isle donation was $10,000 from the Member for Franklin Julie Collins in her first full tax year as a pollie. In late 2007, Collins was gifted Franklin preselection when her opponent was told he was damaged goods and had to go. Pretty cheap for a parachute, it seems.

And in the parallel universe of Family First, David Burrell donated $85,000 to the party. Burrell is also the owner of David Burrell & Co Divorce Lawyers.

Here’s a wrap of some of the biggest donors:

First, the government guaranteed banks:

Mike Smith donated $100,000 from ANZ split between the major parties, while Gail Kelly at Westpac stumped up $125,000, also across both parties. Commonwealth Bank gave just $25,000.

Gambling:

Labor received $150,000 from Tabcorp, and the Coalition $94,000 with new laws governing the industry about to be debated in parliament. The Australian Hotels Association gave $302,000, mostly to the ALP. Pokie kingpin Bruce Mathieson’s Australia Leisure and Hospitality donated $20,000 to each side of politics.

Donations from Clubs NSW, which controls 70,000 poker machines in the premier state, came in at $89,450 from $144,800, while James Packer sent a total of $63,000 the way of each major party.

The ALP also snared $502,266 from the pokie-heavy Canberra Labor Club, famously at the centre of a fight for control with the CFMEU.

Tobacco:

The Liberal Party grabbed a combined $144,000 from British American Tobacco and Philip Morris, prompting faux outrage from Labor’s Joe Ludwig.

Property developers:

The contribution of property spruikers slumped by 80% in NSW where donations were outlawed in the wake of the Wollongong property development scandal.

According to the Greens’ democracy4sale website, on operator Toga Pty Ltd, which donated $60,000 to the ALP, “operate a hotel chains, including Vibe, Medina, Travelodge and others. They have an application for a new hotel development in Bondi Beach on the site of the former Hakoah Club which has been called in under the “state significant development” provisions of Part 3A of the NSW EP&A Act for determination by the Planning Minister and not the local council. A number of substantial contributions were made to NSW Labor around the time of the call-in.”

Wal King conglomerate Leighton Holdings donated $500,000 while Harry Triguboff’s Meriton Apartments donated more than $40,000.

The Unions:

The ALP raised $5.14 million in total from unions, including $735,856 from the biggest band of bruvvas, the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association. The LHMU also paid their political masters handsomely, delivering up $696,762.