In March 2002, the Greens began a study of donations made to the NSW divisions of the major political parties, extending this later in the year to the national secretariats of each party. We undertook this project in order to be better able to inform the public of the relationships between political parties and their donors. We looked at the data available from the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) covering the period between July 1998 and June 2001.
The study was widened to include the donations for the 2001-2002 financial year once the information became available from the AEC in early March 2003. The research project has culminated in the democracy4sale website, featuring the Greens donations database, which is based on the data from the AEC's website. We built the website because it was too difficult to navigate the labyrinth of forms on the AEC website and scrutinise the relationship between donors and the major parties.
Information about the principal activity of a company was gathered from a number of sources. These sources include the Google search engine, the Yellow Pages, The Business Who's Who in Australia (Dun & Bradstreet publication), IBIS World Company Profile, ACTU National Directory Online, Yahoo Company Profile, Australian Corporate Information, the websites of various professional groups such as Advertising Agencies Online, Australian Stock Exchange, John Fairfax archives, and finally the Australian Securities and Investment Commission website. Since we did not have the resources to use the brokers recommended by the ASIC except in a few instances, this latter site was of limited usefulness.
As a last resort when information about a company couldn't be ascertained from the internet, we rang companies for information. Surprisingly, representatives of many companies, especially financial ones, were most reluctant to talk about the activities of their organisation.
The AEC categorises the receipts the various political parties report to them each year into "donations" and "non donations". Donations are defined narrowly as simple cash gifts and gifts of goods or services. Non donations include all other money received by the party - interest from bank accounts, insurance claims paid to the party, sponsorships of party functions and organisations, money received from fund-raising dinners, raffle tickets sold at fund-raising events, payment for advertisements in party journals and so on. Obviously many of these "non donations" can and should properly be considered as donations to the party.
Therefore, we combined non donations with the stated donations when the receipts the party reported were for sponsorships, fund-raising events and advertisements in party publications. The reporting of non donations to the AEC is inconsistent between the parties, as well as between years for any particular party. The process of deciding which non donation figures to include in the following donation information has been documented in the General Coding Manual for this project.
A number of people gave their time to work on this project. Dr Norman Thompson was the chief researcher, donating over 1000 hours of work to devise the coding categories, code all the companies into these categories and prepare the coding notes and general papers on the project.
Other people who have volunteered their time to work on the project include: Brett Smith, Corey Birtles, Daryl Davies, Elaine Johnson, George Carrard, Jake Chivers, Linda Wilhelm, Lyndal Halliday, Marc Rerceretnam, Michelle Loh, Paul Gross, Stefan Jarnason, Susan Meyer, James Bourne, Liam McGillicuddy, Helen McCuthcheon, Susie Gemmell, Anne MacArthur, Richard Morrell and Ben Raue. Without the commitment and enthusiasm of these people to so generously donate their expertise, this important project could never have come to fruition.