John Banks is now a convicted criminal. Which is a good thing, but maybe not for the reason you think.
So the first line of John Banks' future obituary has now been written: "John Banks, former mayor of Auckland and a long serving MP and Minister for the National and Act Parties who was convicted of falsely reporting contributions to one of his campaigns, has died."
That, I think, is the true price that he has paid in court today, far above the two month period of community detention and 100 hours of community service imposed on him. And the fact he has now been convicted of the offence of knowingly transmitting a false return of election donations, following a guilty verdict back in June, is not surprising. Realistically, his chances of achieving a discharge without conviction were miniscule-to-zero - a fact that his lawyer obviously impressed on him, as Banks in the end decided not to even request this outcome. The fact that Justice Wylie then went beyond a mere fine and deemed the offending serious enough to warrant a quasi-custodial response - community detention means you have to be in your house for 12 hours a day - underscores this fact.
Sure, this conviction represents a huge fall from grace and Banks (whether you like him as a person or agree with his politics) has a lot of public service to his credit. But the nature of his offending goes right to the heart of that service. He was found guilty of (in effect) deliberately deceiving the public about where he was getting the money he used to campaign for their support. So it would be like a bank manager arguing that he shouldn't be convicted for stealing $50,000 from his employer because over the years he'd earned that employer millions. That just ain't going to fly.
That is why I'm glad to see this conviction entered and a reasonably severe penalty imposed (given that this was never going to result in imprisonment). I say that without any real sense of animus for Mr Banks - dancing on a grave is only forgivable if it's got a decent tune behind it. If electoral law is going to matter (and I'd say it should), then those who break it in a significant way have to be seen to pay a price. Any message that you can knowingly ignore the rules intended to create a fair, transparent and trusted electoral process without legal consequences would be a bad thing.
Having said all that, one thing still amazes me about all of this. Banks' fall from grace stems from knowingly hiding a donation to a campaign that he lost, from a donor who (whilst he since has become somewhat more notorious) wasn't particularly important or noteworthy at the time. All I can think is that he cooked up a scheme to hide Dotcom's identity in case he won (without perhaps even being conscious that what he was doing was unlawful - did he think he was still playing by the rules he was used to from the more unregulated days he spent in Parliament?), and then forgot to change things when he lost. Which is not to forgive or excuse Mr Banks ... but it just seems such a silly, silly way to end your career in disgrace.
Following on from my closing observations, the NZ Herald is reporting Banks as saying:
"Since the finding of guilt fresh, new, unimpeachable, water-tight evidence has emerged. That new evidence completely contradicts much of the evidence given in the court in front of the judge on which I was convicted," Banks said.
"We're looking forward to taking that ... to the Court of Appeal and in the process of time, that will completely exonerate me of these charges."
So I guess the story ain't over 'till it is over, and maybe the oddity of Banks' story has yet another twist in its tail ... .