‘Money has never made man happy, nor will it,’ said Benjamin Franklin, ‘there is nothing in its nature to produce happiness. The more of it one has, the more one wants.’
But money is needed to win elections; it buys you ink on paper and airwaves on radio and TV.
And while incomparable in size and scale to state and federal election budgets, local government candidate donation and expenditure disclosures reveal the same transparency issues: donors can remain anonymous by contributing under $1,000 while fundraising event donations are also anonymous.
As the political donation disclosures are now public, what does it cost to run as a party in a local government election?
As a state-registered political party, The Byron Greens’ disclosure is not recorded alongside other parties. So unless you ask, there’s no way of knowing what was donated or spent. But Byron Greens treasurer Wayne Smith seemed happy enough to tell The Echo that $2,577 was donated to the party by eight local people, all under the $1,000 amount.
‘$2,000 was raised from raffles,’ he said. ‘The Byron Greens members contributed $7,000,’ he added, ‘and the total came to $12,018.10.’
As for expenditures, fundraising cost them $500 and advertising was spread across the two weekly papers. The Echo ads cost them $2,757 while Byron News was just under $600. $900 was spent with Bay FM and signage totalled $559. Other costs included $600 on a Byron Bay pop-up shop as campaign HQ.
The Byron Greens membership is around 100–120, Mr Smith added, and he agreed that there would be more transparency if registered political parties disclosed reports locally rather than sending them to state branch headquarters. Mayor Simon Richardson, along with Crs Duncan Dey and Rose Wanchap, were all elected on the Greens ticket.
Cr Sol Ibrahim
Cr Ibrahim’s Vision In Action team reported no donations of any kind except his own, which totalled $3,867. But the campaign cost $11,797, and like Crs Cameron and Spooner, he managed to secure only himself a seat in Council.
When asked about the donations, Cr Ibrahim said, ‘I received about two dozen donations. All were below the reportable threshold from local residents who were of course not developers, or involved in gaming or liquor, as per AEC rules.
And when asked who were Cr Ibrahim’s main backers, he replied, ‘It is a bit mischievous to imply that I or other councillor had “major backers”. I think it would be quite obvious to anyone who reviewed my votes, and my carefully stated reasons, that I am not beholden to any backers, unlike some of the Greens of course. The Greens received about a third of the votes, and my votes were about equal to Paul and Basil combined. Clearly there are a wide range of legitimate community views in our Shire.’
Newspaper advertising was again the choice of Cr Ibrahim’s communication, with $2,655.26 being spent with the Byron News (APN) and $4,194 with The Echo. Bay FM ads cost him $1,560, Corflute signage was $1,818.30 and website $1,400.
Cr Ibrahim also receives the ‘hippest candidate award’ – he put down DJ expenses of $200. QLD-based public relations company Zakazukha also received $880.
Cr Di Woods
The True Independents, led by Cr Di Woods, raised by far the most capital with 30 individuals donating $19,728 alone (all anonymously as they are under $1,000).
Additionally, a fundraising event added $12,290 to the war chest, making that at least $32,018.
QLD resident Tory Smith also donated $4,000 to the cause. Mrs Woods said of Ms Smith, ‘Tory is a supporter of the True Independents and wished to donate to our cause. A really nice lady.’
As for expenses, $13,866.53 was declared, which covered newspaper advertising and signage while a marketing team was paid $8,195.
APN advertising totalled $5,792.67, while $1,505 was spent with The Echo and a Saturday Star advertisement cost $275. Designer Tony Gooley was paid $3,916 and t-shirts and stickers were produced.
Asked if she would advocate a change in donation disclosure given donations under $1,000 are anonymous, Cr Woods replied, ‘I would always agree with absolute transparency from all candidates including the Greens.’
But when asked if she was prepared to publicly acknowledge her major donors, she declined.
‘We had many donors who had their money returned to them as they were ineligible under the electoral ruling. We also had many other offers which were declined due to ineligibility.
‘We had a consultancy firm working for us who sought donations on our behalf and we maintained absolute scrutiny to ensure we had only legitimate donations that complied with the ruling by the Electoral Funding Authority (EFA).’
Cr Woods brought Crs Chris Cubis and Alan Hunter with her for a seat at Council.
Cr Basil Cameron
Cr Cameron’s Sustainable Futures party had $10,696 in capital to spend, and according to AEC records, it was his own cash. And while it didn’t get his other candidates elected, Cr Cameron’s expenditure showed a healthy advertising spend across all media. As for ink on paper, The Village Journal was paid $340, Bangalow Heartbeat $146.70, Northern Star (APN) $2,454.11 and The Echo $2,167. Bay FM was paid $300, while audio and video production cost $1,212.
Unlike other candidates, he dabbled with TV: Prime7 and NBN were each paid $1,100 for ads.
Cr Paul Spooner
The Community Independents party, headed by Cr Spooner, didn’t spend much comparatively but it was enough for him to be elected.
While his records were unavailable on the Election Funding Authority website, he said the party’s income totalled $4,720.
‘This was raised through a launch event and some small donations,’ said Cr Spooner. ‘This consisted of reportable political donation of $3,010 from Graham Mathews and $1,710 in small donations.
‘Expenses were $4,783.95 and was mainly Echo advertising, printing of pamphlets and signs etc.’