The Democracy for Sale project is an initiative of Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon on behalf of the Greens NSW. The Greens took a leading role in the campaign to reform electoral funding laws because we believe corporate donations taint the democratic process – they allow big business to buy a level of access to politicians that ordinary people can’t afford.
In 2002 Lee’s office began a small research project to classify the top political donor companies by sector to analyse what influence donations were having on the political process. We undertook this project in order to be better able to inform the public of the relationships between political parties and their donors.
Initially we looked at the data available from the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) covering the period between July 1998 and June 2001. As we realised the enormity of the money involved we extended the project to look at the national and state divisions of political parties.
As it was so difficult to navigate the labyrinth of forms on the AEC website and scrutinise the relationship between donors and the major parties we built the Democracy for Sale website to present the data to the public in an accessible format that sorts donations to political parties by donor industry category.
Although details of donations have been available from the AEC since 1998 it was only with the establishment of the Greens Democracy for Sale research project in 2001 that the public could readily access information on the quantity of money coming from individual donors and from categories of donors such as property developers, the finance sector, clubs and hotels. This website has proved to be an invaluable tool for journalists, community groups and concerned individuals wanting to highlight the impact of political donations on the democratic process.
Democracy for Sale has been the centrepiece of the Greens campaign for far reaching reform of political funding. The campaign has also included private members bills, public meetings and the preparation of many briefs on donation stories for journalists. Former NSW Premier Iemma’s decision in 2009 to begin reform of the political funding regime was certainly linked to the growing number of scandals that dogged both the Coalition and Labor parties. Without a massive public outcry the major parties would have happily continued to pocket the millions of dollars from corporate and group donations that have become the lifeline for their exorbitant election campaigns.
The success of the project has been the raised public awareness about the corrupting influence of political donations and the need for reform of the system. Years of research and campaigning culminated in 2008 with the NSW Upper House Donations Inquiry and the undertaking by the government and opposition to clean up donations. The NSW government finally banned non-individual donations in February 2012 with the support of the Greens in the Legislative Council. Unfortunately the ban was overturned in a High Court challenge in 2013. NSW still prohibits donations from property developers, tobacco, alcohol and gambling entities.
In February 2009 the Greens NSW prepared a submission to the government Green Paper on donations reform, which remains a model for reform. Though federal reform has stalled the campaign continues.
Many volunteers and staff have put in thousands of hours work on this project including Susie Gemmell, Alison Orme, Jemma Bailey, James Bourne, Linda Wilhelm, Richard Morrell, Norman Thompson, Ben Raue, Anne MacArthur, Brett Smith, Corey Birtles, Daryl Davies, Elaine Johnson, George Carrard, Jake Chivers, Lyndal Halliday, Marc Rerceretnam, Michelle Loh, Paul Gross, Stefan Jarnason, Susan Meyer, Liam McGillicuddy, Helen McCuthcheon, Brendan Manning, Bjorn Wallin, Maddy Williams, Rene Ribic, Ben Moroney, Declan Watson, Vanamali Hermans, Brendan Wylie and Georgia Delgado. Without the commitment and enthusiasm of these people who so generously donated their expertise and time, this important project could never have come to fruition.
The site, data and search engine is undergoing a major upgrade in 2016. This upgrade increases the fidelity of the search engine, increases the number of categorised donors to near 100%, and includes donations which were declared by the donor but not the party. We believe this is a first in Australian political donations research.
Please feel free to contact Lee’s office with any questions or corrections to the data.
Phone: 02 9211 9523