If a man hides behind some hands - possibly his own - and an identical man emerges from those hands a few seconds later shouting "peek-a-boo!", how do you know if it's the same man? I mean, how do you REALLY know? Like truly, really, *KNOW* know?
You can't. It is unknowable.
I think that if Banks can successfully deny the "thank you" call, then he can argue that he only solicited the donation, requested that the donation be split into anonymous $25k chunks, and received some anonymous donations in $25k chunks - but he had no way of knowing that the donation he got was the same donation that he solicited and was told he was going to get.
And therefore, they are anonymous donations and this is all technically not illegal.
And maybe it is.
But you know what? "Technically not illegal" is fine as a threshold for "not being thrown in jail", but it is not fine as a threshold for "fit to hold public office making and executing laws". This isn't even about holding politicians to higher ethical standards - it's about fundamental respect for their domain: the public and the law.
If a member of Parliament and a Honourable Minister of the Crown conspired to mislead the electoral monitoring body and circumvent electoral law, in order to hide the source of a donation from the public, legality is not the issue. John Key isn't deciding whether to throw him in jail, but whether he wants this guy as a minister. Is the bar really set so low that deliberately misleading election officials and the public, and explicitly disregarding the spirit of the law is fine, as long as it's not technically illegal?
And is the bar for accountability so low, and we're so desensitised to Winstonness, that Banks can meaninglessly chant "I can't recall" - as in "I can't recall" that time I got helicoptered out to the Crisco mansion where I met an obese Bond villain who offered me $50,000 - and we have to accept them as actual words with meaning coming out of his mouth, as if he actually answered a question? He might as well be saying "I know you fudged electoral law, but what am I?".
Only in Punditville could we describe this as political discourse, or actual communication between human beings. Out in the real world, "FUCKING RIDICULOUS" would be considered an accurate and comprehensive description.
Clark faced the same choice with Peters in 2008. Her position then was every bit as BS as Key's is today. I'm pretty sure she knew she was doing something shitty - but she was desperate to stay in power and Peters had 7 seats - so she held her nose and did it anyway. What's Key's excuse? The only thing at stake here is the illiberal conservative leader of a libertarian party that has gnawed itself down to the bone, and the leader himself is only there because he was tube-fed an entire electorate by National, who got covered in Teapot vomit for their troubles.
The cost of ending this farce is pretty cheap. And Key doesn't even have to pay.