This week, Labour has been under heavy fire for apparently receiving a $15,000 donation from Donghua Liu back in 2007, while David Cunliffe has been under sustained attack for forgetting about a 2003 letter written in support of Mr Liu. Cunliffe’s gullibility in walking into National’s trap regarding the letter speaks volumes about the Labour leader’s political competence, but the more important story is the donation. If $15,000 was given to the Labour party, where did it go and why was it not declared?
The problem for Labour and the media is that there really has been no trace whatsoever of the alleged donation. There’s been an unnamed “Labour source” who provided the initial story, and that’s apparently been backed up by a second anonymous “Labour source”. From there, the trail goes cold. Was it for a book, a bottle of wine, or neither? If it was for a book at an auction fundraiser, wouldn’t a $15,000 winning bid have caused somewhat of a stir at the time? Who in the Labour party received the donation, or was it an electronic transaction? If it wasn’t an electronic transaction, was it cash or a cheque? Did it go to Head Office or to one of the electorate committees?
And of course there’s been the rather large question of “Did it even happen?” With no paper trail and no names, just the word of an anonymous source that $15,000 was received, Labour has only been able to collectively shrug and say they’ve got no idea what anyone’s talking about. Has it all just been a hatchet job by some disgruntled Labourite who wants to watch Cunliffe crash and burn?
John Key was enjoying himself immensely, stoking the rumour mill that Donghua Liu had in fact donated a six figure sum to Labour. There was More To Come, and everyone – Labour included – was Watching That Space. Rick Barker – Labour’s former Immigration Minister – was unimpressed, calling for Mr Liu to make everything public in affidavit form.
Which meant that the rumour mill went into overdrive last night when Vernon Small reported that:
“Labour is bracing for the expected release of an affidavit claiming six-figure donations were made to the party by wealthy businessman Donghua Liu. … It is understood the affidavit was being pored over by lawyers today because there was a lack of documentation.”
However, in the NZ Herald this morning, the reporting related to a media statement by Liu that he had given “equally to Governments of both colours”. All other questions remained unanswered. Amounts? Dates? How the donations were made? Silence. Instead, the Herald reported that “Liu said he would not make any further comments about political donations or swear an affidavit outlining dollar amounts”.
If Donghua Liu thinks that his statement will make the issue disappear, he’s likely to be sadly mistaken. At the very least, he needs to confirm whether, in any single year, he donated more than $10,000 – enough to trigger Labour’s disclosure requirements of that time. If he did, then something either went horribly wrong with Labour’s record-keeping or someone in Labour made a conscious decision to break the law by keeping the donation secret.
Mr Liu may say in his statement, “As a private citizen it’s not for me to make declarations about donations and political relationships.” Nonetheless, if he donated $10,000 or more in any given year to Labour, that information should now be a matter of public record. The fact that Labour can’t seem to find anything in their records surely imposes a moral obligation on Mr Liu to make public what should have been made public over half a decade ago.
If Donghua Liu did make sizeable donations to Labour, someone in the party is surely now sweating bullets.