Will the Libs spill the beans on their illegal donors?

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(Image via @JohnDory49)

In another probity scandal involving the NSW Liberal Party, former finance director Arthur Sinodinos is yet again under fire after being slammed by the NSW Electoral Commission for breaching electoral laws. Ross Jones investigates.

THE CURRENT SCANDAL is over illegal donations to the Libs’ 2011 election campaign from the Free Enterprise Foundation, a slush fund set up by John Howard to launder anonymous donations to the Liberal Party. The fund includes property developers, who are banned from making political donations to NSW campaigns.

The ruling read:

In truth, the foundation [Free Enterprise Foundation] had been used by senior officials of the party and an employed party fundraiser to channel and disguise donations by major political donors, some of whom were prohibited donors.

When the foundation purported to pay the money to the Liberal party... it was in truth acting as an agent for the donors.

(Editor's Note: For more information on the Libs' shadowy corporate sluicegate, using trust funds such as the Free Enterprise Foundation, Cormack Foundation and Greenfields Foundation to launder donations from vested interests, see Sandi Keane's investigations herehere and here.)

Will the Libs spill the beans on their illegal donors?

On Friday night, Lateline’s Tony Jones questioned Malcolm Turnbull about the escalating scandal and the role of Sinodinos, one of Turnbull’s key inner circle players.

MALCOLM TURNBULL: Well the Liberal Party should only take donations in accordance with the law and they should disclose them in accordance with the law. The laws relating to donations are somewhat difference as between New South Wales, for example, and the federal jurisdiction.

The disclosure limits are higher in the federal level and there is no ban, for example, on property developers for a federal campaign. So there are differences and the laws are complex and that’s been a matter of some criticism in the past. The complexity of course is an issue for administrators.

But nonetheless, the fact is, the Party must comply with the law. If the law has not been complied with they should fess up, set all the facts out on the table and let the cards fall where they may.

So, no. It's way too complex.

This must be a time of exquisite torture for the Libs, a real life game of Would You Rather:

Have your dirty linen exposed and take $4m from the electoral commission, or risk electoral wipeout by, as our PM put it while channeling the Beverly Hillbillies’ Jed Clampett, fessing up?

And $4m would come in very handy about now, what with the DD election and all. It’s a lot of TV time. But then again, crap, if we fess up we will need to admit we took power in NSW illegally.

Woe is the LNP.

In a statement from NSW Liberal state director Chris Stone to the Daily Telegraph, he said:

The Liberal Party of Australia (NSW Division) will comply with the electoral laws.

It had been the party’s expectation that the process would be that the ICAC would issue a report, including findings and recommendations on Operation Spicer, that the Electoral Commission would consider it and make a determination, as required, and that the party would respond initially to the ICAC and then, if necessary, to the Electoral Commission.

Given the continuing delay in the ICAC being able to finalise these matters because of litigation by others, the remission of certain matters relating to the Liberal Party to the Electoral Commission and the decision yesterday by the full three-member panel of the Electoral Commission, I have written to the commission this afternoon seeking their assistance in resolving any areas of uncertainty about the legal status of donors in the 2010/2011 period so as to comply with our obligations.

It looks like the LNP have swallowed hard and decided to forgo the $4m.

The phrase, ‘assistance in resolving any areas of uncertainty’ is up there with the most disingenuous ever uttered. These discussions, presumably with a phalanx of lawyers, will take forever. And that is the idea. Bury it.

Sinodinos meanwhile is ducking for cover. He’s going for lawyers too.

In a media statement published on 24 March by the cabinet secretary, he said:

“For my part, my lawyers have written to the commission to draw attention to errors of fact in its statement in relation to me. I was not given the opportunity by the commission to comment on a statement before its publication and I was not aware of the publication until shortly prior to its release”

NSW ICAC investigations have blindsided the national LNP campaign. As a Python might put it, “no one expects the Electoral Commission”.

No one expects the Spanish Inquisition. (via Monty Python's Flying Circus.)

The question du jour is: How can the LNP replace the $4m expected Electoral Commission windfall — an amount already factored into the electoral budget? It’s a big hole, especially when your fundraising is coming under scrutiny from those sections of the media finally wakening from their irresponsible torpor (the smell of blood will do that).

Mind you, $4m might just be a drop in the bucket. The Conversation 'FactCheck' reckons

‘There are no official figures for national election spending. This is a flaw in our disclosure system.‘

Labor has its secrets, but right now it’s the LNP undies we see fluttering, unwashed, on the clothesline.

And just before an election too.

There must be some serious names in there.

You can follow Ross Jones on Twitter @RPZJones.

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