A small example of how easy it is to game our ridiculous political donations disclosure system, if you were so minded. The Australian Electoral Commission has just posted on its website a late disclosure by KPMG, sent to the AEC on March 3, which describes donations worth over $117,000 to the Victorian Liberal and Labor parties. We’re not suggesting KPMG is avoiding transparency — it submitted a return describing nearly 20 donations worth more than $200,000 last year, as it is required to do, and included donations well below the reporting threshold, right down to a $65 payment to the Liberal Party. KPMG in fact is one of the better companies when it comes to disclosure; we’d urge other companies to follow their example.
But submitting a late disclosure like this guarantees you’ll get virtually no publicity, because the media really only pay attention to donations in early February when the AEC releases its annual data dump of who gave what to whom. If you were a donor anxious to avoid the spotlight, you’d file a late return, after the February 1 release. After all, there are no penalties for late disclosures to the AEC. It’s only because the excellent automated Twitter account @AusDisclosure now picks them up as they’re filed that we know about them.
One of KPMG’s additional donations is $25,000 given in July 2013, ahead of the previous federal election. Here we are about to go into another federal election in 2016, and we’re only finding out now about donations before the last one. It’s a rotten disclosure system, even when donors do the right thing.