Liberals ‘impinging’ privacy of charity donors after demanding privacy for those who part-paid Christian Porter’s legal fees, says Simon Holmes à Court

The convener of an organisation supporting independent climate-focused candidates has hit back at the Morrison government’s suggestion MPs and senators should dob the Climate 200 group in to the Australian Electoral Commission under new electoral donation rules.Simon Holmes à Court, the convener of Climate 200, said he can’t see that new donation rules will change its disclosure practices, accusing the Coalition of failing to understand that “Voices of” volunteer organisations don’t collect money for the candidates they promote.Holmes à Court also said it was “crazy” the Liberal party was “impinging on a reasonably held expectation of privacy” by donors to charities so soon after it was “demanding complete privacy” for donors to the Legal Services Trust which part-paid Christian Porter’s legal fees.Climate 200, a company set up as a fundraising vehicle to bankroll campaigns, has raised millions of dollars for a series of independent candidates challenging sitting Liberal MPs in inner-city constituencies.The government, with Labor’s support, this month passed amendments to electoral laws that will force entities to register as “significant third parties” if they spend more than $250,000 on electoral expenditure a year, down from the previous $500,000 threshold, or $14,500 if that is more than a third of their revenue.In an email to all MPs and senators on Monday, the special minister of state, Ben Morton, urged them to dob in the Climate 200 fund and “Voices of” independent advocacy groups, suggesting they may need to register under the new rules and reveal their donors.Climate 200 has already disclosed several thousand donors on its website, although a complete filing to the Australian Electoral Commission will require additional details including the sum donated.Holmes à Court said everyone above the $14,500 disclosure threshold would be disclosed “as per the AEC requirements, months before the Liberals” and a large number had “opted to be disclosed earlier”.Sign up to receive the top stories from Guardian Australia every morningHolmes à Court said the independent movement itself would probably be unaffected by the disclosure law because “candidates set up their own campaigning organisations”.“Voices of groups aren’t political organisations receiving disclosable donations.“They’re volunteer organisations helping their candidates with sweat not money.”Holmes à Court said the primary impact would be “a chilling effect on charities” that believed their activities were not electoral expenditure but due to the law’s retrospective effect “will need to go back to donors and say ‘we need to disclose you’”.Holmes à Court said “it’s crazy the [Liberal] party has this instance so close, temporally, where it was demanding complete privacy” in relation to Porter’s legal fees.In September Porter declared that the Legal Services Trust part paid his legal fees for a defamation case against the ABC, with funds from undisclosed sources.Porter denied breaching disclosure rules and was later cleared by the privileges committee but quit the cabinet in September because the issue had become a “distraction” for the government.On the day he resigned, Porter said in a statement he was “not willing to put pressure on the trust to provide me with any further information … to which I am not entitled” because he did not want to expose people who donated to the trust to “become targets of the social media mob”.In his email Morton complained that “new entities have been established with the sole or dominant purpose of acting as political fundraising vehicles”.“Many of these funding vehicles hide in the dark – they were established with the explicit goal of avoiding electoral funding disclosure,” he said.An analysis of recent electoral expenditure suggests the three-year retrospective application will capture about a dozen organisations, including climate activist charities, unions, Universities Australia, and the Master Builders Australia, which said it accepts it will have to register.GetUp is already required to register, while right-of-centre groups including the Institute of Public Affairs, Advance Australia and LibertyWorks believe they aren’t required to because their expenditure is not high enough or they don’t advocate a vote for particular candidates.President of LibertyWorks, Andrew Cooper, accused the major parties of “raising the administrative costs of political campaigning” for competitors while they collect “tens of millions of dollars” through public funding of elections to pay for their campaigns.Liberal MP, Jason Falinski defended the government’s handling of the issue, saying while the new law might not impact how much Climate 200 collects it will affect the political process by “allowing people to see behind what’s going on”.“You might say I’m self-interested because they [Climate 200 and Voices of Mackellar] are running against me – but it’s pretty outrageous it can act as a front group for candidates claiming to be community independents.“How would the media react if Gina Rinehart raised $20m for community independents preselecting coalminers to run in Labor seats and seeking subsidies for coal?”On Tuesday the federal director of the Liberal party, Andrew Hirst, noted reports Holmes à Court had raised $6m and aimed to raise $20m to fund “so-called independents”.Hirst accused “Voices of” groups of pursuing a “left-wing agenda and only targeting government MPs”, urging Liberal supporters to help build the party’s fighting fund to “stop these faux independents”.Guardian Australia also contacted Morton for comment.A spokesperson for Porter said: “Mr Porter’s recent parliamentary declaration regarding the payment of legal fees in a private action was subject to a full consideration and report by the privileges committee of parliament which held unanimously, all Liberal and Labor members agreeing, that the declaration made by Mr Porter was in accordance with the disclosure requirements for the Members Register of Interests.”