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Here Are The Illustrious Countries Which Have Not Banned Foreign Political Donations

Cash for comment?

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114 countries around the world have banned political donations from foreign interests, but Australia isn't one of them.

Anna Mendoza / BuzzFeed News

Foreign political donations have hit the headlines after it emerged Labor senator Sam Dastyari made statements in contrary to Labor's policy on the South China Sea after a company with links to the Chinese government paid his $1,600 travel bill.

The company was the Top Education Institute and it has donated more than $230,000 to both the Liberal and Labor parties.

Despite not breaking any laws, Dastyari's actions have raised the question of whether foreign political donations are, as the prime minster has called them, "cash for comment".

Australia joins countries such as Botswana, Chad, Estonia, Iraq, Liechtenstein, Namibia, Uganda and Zambia in not banning foreign donations.

The United States, Canada and the United Kingdom all ban foreign donations, and New Zealand caps overseas contributions at NZ$1,000.

Under current Australian rules, foreign and domestic donors follow the same rules and scrutiny: there are no caps on political donations to parties or individual politicians and the identity of donors doesn't have to be disclosed unless they contribute over $13,000.

In 2014-15 $10.4 million was donated to the Liberals and $7.2 million to Labor by individuals and corporations including banks, property developers, unions and business people.

Chinese businesses are the biggest donors to both major parties, sending more than $5.5 million to Australia between 2013 and 2015. These groups tend to be heavily invested in infrastructure (ports and power lines), community groups and Chinese-language media outlets.

States and territories operate under tighter regulations: NSW has a donations cap; a ban on money from property developers, gambling, tobacco and alcohol companies; and limits on election expenditure. SA has a $500 cap on "cash for access" events and the ACT's anonymous donation threshold is $1,000.

But that's not to say there aren't loopholes in the system.

The NSW electoral commission is currently withholding $4.4 million in public funding from the NSW Liberal party after the party was caught breaching the rules by using the Free Enterprise Foundation to disguise donations from banned groups.

One of Australia's most prolific political donors Huang Xiangmo (who's donated more than $1 million to both major parties since 2012) argued in the Chinese state-run Global Times that Chinese donors should be asking for something in return for their money.

"The Chinese community is still inexperienced when it comes to participating in politics, and in making political donations," he wrote.

"We need to learn … how to have a more efficient combination between political requests and political donations, and how to use the media to push our political requests."

Labor wants foreign donations banned, real time disclosures, declaration of what the donations are being spent on and the threshold of anonymous donations reduced from $13,000 to $1,000.

Coalition ministers Darren Chester and Steve Ciobo, alongside backbenchers Cory Bernardi, Eric Abetz and Craig Kelly, agree there needs to be reform.

The Greens are proposing only people who have the right to vote should be allowed to donate to parties. This would cut off contributions from foreigners, companies and unions.

Alice Workman is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Canberra.

Contact Alice Workman at alice.workman@buzzfeed.com.

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