WORKER RIGHTS
 MEDIA BIAS
Dark Money In Politics: Expanding The Scope
Uncovering what the powerful want to keep hidden is a momentous job, yet this work is under immediate threat.
For the past month I have been working with payments made to political parties, their associated entities, third parties, campaigners and candidates between the 2013-2020 financial years inclusive. I have calculated the propotion able to be traced back to its source by each entity type and the proportion they receive for which there is no information provided - either because they fall beneath the overly generous disclosure threshold or through lack of compliance.
When taken as whole, only 36% of political funding can be traced to its source. Of all the entity types, Associated Entities have the highest proportion of undisclosed receipts though this could be a reflection of the typical size of payment they receive- an artifact of the high disclosure threshold that applies.
The stark difference in the proportion of funds received by these organisations able to be traced to its source and how much remains shrouded in mystery shows that Australia has a major problem when it comes to transparency and accountability in political funding.
Previous analysis of dark money in Australian politics (both by myself and others) has been limited to payments reported by poltical parties in their Annual Returns. I am not aware of any other attempts to quantify and analyse dark money across Annual AEC Returns from Associated Entities, Third Parties, Campaigners and Candidates.
One area I have found of particular interest is the presence of registered charities interacting financially with political entities. It strikes me as a curious phenomenon that there are charities of significant wealth that are also spending large amounts of money on influencing elections. After all, charities have particular responsiblities if they are to maintain their registration which look skeptically upon political communications that favour specific parties or significant political donations.
I have identified well over 100 charities (including one with voluntarily revoked registration) that have paid money to either a political party, associated entity, political candidate, campaigner or third party or who are themselves registered political campaigners, third parties, registered lobbyists or their client.
The added data shows that in the 2017-18 financial year, the Insitute of Public Affairs made a $25,000 donation to the Menzies Research Centre which is an Associated Entity of the Liberal Party.
The Minderoo Foundation, a registered charity funded by mining magnate Andrew Forrest and his wife Nicola spent enough on influencing the outcome of elections to require it to be registered as both a Political Campaigner and a Third Party. Fortescue Metals, the company owned by Andrew Forrest has paid out over $460,000 since 2013 to a variety of political organisations.
One of the main challenges in working with political donations and related data is the lack of ABN in the data made available by the AEC for download. This means there is no effective way to match donors with other data charities or lobbyists registers. Matches have to be done manually and when there is a lot of data with a lot of variations or poorly worded information it requires manual searches to find out what kind of organisation it is or even what the full name is (if it only appears as an acronym). You can read more about this in my article, The Missing Piece.
Data from Political Campaigners has only been collected since 2018-19.
This data is not broken down by year because returns are not collected by financial year but political events (eg By-election).