Brethren's secret donation bid to Howard coffers

The Sydney Morning Herald/September 21, 2008

Members of the Exclusive Brethren were actively attempting to donate to John Howard's re-election campaign last year in a manner that meant the cash injection would not have been disclosed to the public.

A senior Liberal Party source has confirmed in a new book about the secretive Christian sect, Behind The Exclusive Brethren, that in the weeks leading up to the November election he was approached by a group of Exclusive Brethren men in a city hotel who offered him a large, anonymous financial donation. "They said 'We are a private group'. I asked them if they voted. It was a testing question. They said they didn't. It was a very short discussion," the source said.

The Exclusive Brethren, whose members are urged not to vote, believe that government is in the hands of God. But for many years they have extensively lobbied politicians. In the 2004 federal election campaign they pumped $370,000 into a pro-Howard and anti-Greens advertising effort without fully disclosing who they were.

"We're in the business of ideas and so are the Exclusive Brethren," the Liberal source said. "I regard many of the party's views and those of the Exclusive Brethren as inconsistent. What the [Liberal] Party stands for should not be confused in the mind of the electorate by the acceptance of donations from fringe groups."

The source turned down the offer, saying: "In my view, if you accept this money, you're arguably accepting some of their opinions." In fact, by late 2007, according to Liberal pollster Mark Textor, the sect was electorally "radioactive".

The Liberal source said the Brethren men had made it clear to him that they could use the Howard government's lax electoral disclosure laws to provide cash donations from a large number of individuals, each of which would come in beneath the electoral disclosure limit of $10,500.

Brethren spokesman Daniel Hales, the brother of "Man of God" Bruce D. Hales, said that, "any decision by individual church members to donate money to a political party is a private matter and not directed or co-ordinated by the church . . . the church has no knowledge of a co-ordinated effort amongst its members to donate money to the Liberal Party in 2007".

Michael Bachelard is the author of Behind The Exclusive Brethren.

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