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ImperatorFish: How Should We Fund Our Political Parties?

Written By: - Date published: 12:43 pm, July 10th, 2012 - 22 comments
Categories: political parties - Tags:

Scott at Imperator Fish has kindly given us permission to syndicate posts from his blog – the original of this post is here.

One of the weaknesses of our democratic system is that it gives people the opportunity to buy political influence.

I don’t mean to suggest that some people are “buying” politicians, in the sense of writing cheques in return for express promises from politicians. We don’t usually know the motivations behind large political donations. But it’s reasonable to assume that companies existing solely to make profit aren’t giving cash out of feelings of altruism. We should not be naive enough to think that donors don’t want something in return for their money, even if what they want is never expressed openly.

It’s obvious that parties promoting certain types of policies will be supported by those organisations and individuals who stand to benefit by those policies. So unions give money to Labour, rich cranks donate to ACT, and corporates and wealthy individuals are more likely to give to National.

But despite all of these things being obvious, we still retain the capacity to be surprised whenever a story emerges showing that a party or politician is acting in a way that might potentially benefit a donor.

The Clayton Cosgrove donation scandal (one is tempted to use the term “beat-up” rather than “scandal”) illustrates this point. There is no evidence that the donor, Independent Fisheries Limited, pressured Cosgrove into pursuing any sort of property development legislative change, and yet it’s likely that IFL donated to Cosgrove because it saw some benefit in doing so. Perhaps the company’s owners thought Cosgrove was sensitive generally to the concerns of land-owners in the Christchurch area, and paid the money in the hope he would be re-elected. This is really no different to a company giving National cash because the Nats are “business-friendly”.

In the perfect world politicians would not accept cash from anyone, because the risk of undue influence is always present where parties are funded by donations. But what choice does a party have under our current system? Cake stalls and sausage sizzles will only take a political party so far.

But this post is not intended to be a defence of Clayton Cosgrove. Unless more details emerge about the IFL donation the story seems doomed to disappear in a few days. That a politician pursued policies that appeared to favour someone who donated to his party is hardly a scoop.

There is an obvious solution to the donation problem. Full state-funding of political parties would cost only a few million dollars per year, but it would do away with much of the suspicion that surrounds politicians, and would go some way towards restoring the public’s trust in our political system. We would of course need to have a robust debate over the make-up of any funding system, to ensure it was fair and didn’t entrench the power of the main parties, and we would need to accept that any system we implemented would be imperfect and would need ongoing refinement.

Those groups who currently have influence would probably object to such a system, but that’s precisely why we should be looking at this seriously.

Such a system would be difficult to sell to the public, but it would be worth the effort if it helped to clean up our political system.

[Bunji: And if you agree with State Funding – how do you think it should work?  Based on Membership numbers?  Vouchers?  Or?]

22 comments on “ImperatorFish: How Should We Fund Our Political Parties?”

  1. tracey 1

    I agree with state fundinig campaigns. If the cheque is big enough I am sure it enables more one-on-one access to a minister or MP. We’re all human and we’re all influenced byt he human beings we have contact with.

    Lobby groups, with daily access tot he halls of power maybe positive on one level but on another it is grimey and elitist.

    When was the last time the Chair of Fletcher’s had to queue at his local MP office on a Saturday to have a chat about something bothering him, fletcher related or not.

    • Gosman 1.1

      Equally , when was the last time the Head of a Trade Union had to queue at his/her local MP office on a Saturday to have a chat about something bothering him/her, Union related or not?

      • Draco T Bastard 1.1.1

        Yes, exactly.

        I’d say that Gosman was getting it but he was just being sarcastic without realising the truth.

    • McFlock 1.2

      Tracey, we all know how it is – CEOs don’t need to go to electorate offices. They’re at the charity dinners and in the corporate boxes, having quiet chats over complimentary beer. It can be very hard work, so they say before their media meltdowns.
           
      And the union reps are outside, protesting with their unions. 

  2. Pete 2

    Personally I’m opposed to state funding of political parties as I believe that a) there are alternate methods to “fixing” the current system, b) it results in political parties being less responsive to their members and c) means those people end up being forced to support parties and individuals who they may be completely ideologically against.

    However if it was to be introduced I believe that the best way would be:
    1) The status quo remains in place until the next election,
    2) Between now and then an amount of funding per voter is determined. This should look at things like typical votes:donation ratio’s, What amounts the public are happy paying etc.
    3) As of the next election the policy is introduced with parties provided a lump sum for the next 3 years for them to manage based on the number of voters that they receive.
    4) Prior to the following election the funding amount would be reviewed and adjusted up/down based on so the amount was known before voters voted.

    • Pascal's bookie 2.1

      What would you think about a voucher system?

      ie, the pool of money to be given to parties is divided by the number of people on the electoral roll. Each person on the roll then allocates their share of the pie to their party of choice. If they don’t want to give it to any of them, the money goes back to the consolidated fund.

      In essence it would be a 100% tax rebate on political donations. :)

      It also eliminates the problem of tactical voting. If you support the libetarianz, and would like them to get some funding, you could give it to them, yet you might have *voted* for National on the grounds that anything else was a wasted vote.

      • Pete 2.1.1

        I think vouchers are fine however the downside I saw with them was that they would create another level of administration which would add another additional cost. I think that ideally that the mechanism for any state funding plan should correspond with the voting process (either via the enrolment or voting stages).

        One downside to the above approach came to mind last night how do new parties gain funding?

    • Bunji 2.2

      I’d be inclined to have a funding model based on membership (rather than per voter – which also risks entrenching current political parties) to partly address those concerns. If parties have to have a thriving membership, they’d be inclined to listen to it somewhat more…

      • Pete 2.2.1

        Then presumably membership would have to be free otherwise party’s gain an additional form of funding which can still be manipulated eg Bronze membership ($10) gets you full voting rights etc while Diamond membership ($1,000,000) gets you full membership and the party leaders cell phone number?

        Also do you then have to make it compulsory to belong to a political party otherwise party’s suffer from voters being willing to support their idea’s and policy at the ballot box but not wanting any direct involvement/contact with the party itself?

  3. DH 3

    I think full state funding would be the best investment we could ever make.

  4. Gosman 4

    This is just another ploy from leftist leaning people who desire to ‘Even’ the political landscape in their favour. As such it has no show of being implemented as it won’t get cross party support and will be vigorously opposed. EFA part Deux.

    • felix 4.1

      “leftist leaning people who desire to ‘Even’ the political landscape in their favour”

      Define “even”, then define “in their favour”, then try writing your comment again with this new well knowledge to draw on.

    • Deano 4.2

      I like the scare quotes around ‘even’. When one party represents and is funded by the wealthy clique who control most of the country’s wealth and the others don’t, the playing field isn’t even if party funding is based on private donations.

  5. higherstandard 5

    They should get not one more cent of taxpayer money.

    However, they should be provided with a “free” slot on state TV and radio to promote their policies and generally bullshit the public.

    …….. apart from that they can all get fucked.

  6. Tom Gould 6

    In relation to the Cosgrove beat up, Scott has missed the most important element, that both the donor and the recipient have said there were no preconditions, offered or sought. Anyhow, maybe taxpayer funding of parties is a good idea, maybe not, but it does not go to the issue raised, how does an electorate candidate under MMP raise the money to fund the local electorate campaign? Even if the central office doles out $20k or whatever the limit is to each of their electorate candidates, this will only catch the big party candidates. What of a new party? The Conservatives, for example? Will they get the full $20k to pass on to each and every local candidate? And if so, will that not jusy encourage hopeless unelectable candidates to spend the full amount, meaning enormouse waste? Why not just let the candidates raise their own money, and declare the donor source and amount, like Cosgrove did? The rules work. We are only discussing the matter because they do.

    • Bunji 6.1

      It would mean tighter party control on electorate candidates I suppose. The party would get its allocation and then it’d be up to them how much they farmed out to candidates to spend… But that wouldn’t work for independent candidates.

      I guess you could have a hybrid system where parties central campaigns are funded, but candidates can only spend what they raise, have a $500 donation limit, and keep the cap on advertising spend. It could probably even be lowered, to ensure candidate spend is only on candidate vote and an even playing field.

      The Nats might not like it though – the likes of Sam Lotu Iiga got >$50k from their head office last time for their campaigns…

  7. Cannot think of something clever 7

    What both sides of the divide have missed is that political spend has a much lesser effect on voting than one might intuitively believe. The extreme examples include the NZ Conservatives and ACT. Both spent a very large amount per electoral seat (in the Conservatives case no seat) compared to the likes of the major parties.

    We can also point at some campaigns where Labour either on its own or combined with Unions outspent National. The spend by Labour and National is typically not dissimilar. As, by all accounts, Labour are skint this time around we might see something substantially different in spend.

    This is also seen outside NZ where presidential candidates in the US often spend enormous amounts with no success.

    Based on that I really don’t want you and me funding their ambitions.

    I’m more with TG – if potential conflicts of interests were super transparent that would really address the type of furore we see with Cosgrove.

  8. Jimmie 8

    The one good thing about the current system is if you have a party that is stagnating, is not renewing itself or its candidates and is generally seen as out of touch then this leads to reducing membership and/or donations.

    This sends positive internal messages to the leadership stating, pull your act together or else you’re history.

    This means the party is not only in competition externally for votes from other parties it is also driven internally to modernize and to find suitable leadership and candidates to become more relevant.

    Surely this is better than a situation where the parties basicly become beneficiaries to to the state and surely will advantage existing parties over newcomers.

    There will be no incentive to listen to members as they aren’t part of the funding equation.

    Look at National circa 2001-05 as a case in point – under English they hit a pretty bad low – they reformed, got their act together, and came back and won in 2008.

    Labour are in a similar place currently. By advocating for state funding this is running away from the problems that Labour has to get to grips with uninspiring leadership and irrelevant policies.

    Look at how well the Greens have done since they turfed out their odd balls, moderated some of their policies, and put on a professional image of themselves – Labour should learn from this.

    • Pascal's bookie 8.1

      Vouchers would deal with that. the funding would be directed by voters.

  9. jaymam 9

    It’s simple, full state-funding of political parties should be done by a dollar amount for each party vote obtained in the NEXT election, and parties can only spend that amount in the year before the election.
    The parties will have to estimate the votes they will get. If they overspend, their allocation will be reduced for the following election.
    Every other method is subject to rorting or is unfair to new parties.
    The cost of state funding is negligible compared with the other costs of government.

    • RedLogix 9.1

      Nice.

      Actually just to really get the point across; how about for every vote they over-estimate they get twice the dollar amount taken off the following election.

      • jaymam 9.1.1

        OK there could be some fine-tuning. Other countries do it this way already. I’d like to say that they can only spend the money they get at ANY time. There needs to be some way to stop lobbyists like the Exclusive Brethren spending millions.

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  • KiwiSaver cut shows no long-term plan
    National’s cutting of the KiwiSaver kickstart is incredibly short-term thinking, typical of a Budget that is woefully short on ideas to generate wealth and opportunity, Labour’s Finance spokesperson Grant Robertson says. “New Zealand’s savings rate is far too low. KiwiSaver… ...
    2 days ago
  • National hits the panic button for its 7th Budget
    National has hit the panic button for its 7th Budget in a desperate attempt to look like they’re taking action to reduce our shameful child poverty rates, but they are giving with one hand and taking with the other, Opposition… ...
    2 days ago
  • Panic and back-flips can’t hide twin deficits
    National’s token measures to fight fires they have left burning for seven long years can’t hide a Budget that is long on broken promises, short on vision and fails to reach surplus, says Labour’s Finance spokesperson Grant Robertson. “After being… ...
    3 days ago
  • Auckland land measure seven years too late
    National are so desperate to look like they are doing something about the Auckland housing crisis they have dusted off Labour’s 2008 inventory of government land available for housing and re-announced it, says Labour’s housing spokesperson Phil Twyford. “Despite National… ...
    3 days ago
  • Access to gender reassignment surgery essential
    I was frankly disgusted to hear the Minister for Health say that funding gender reassignment surgeries is a “nutty idea”. A recent study found that in New Zealand 1% of young people identified themselves as transgender, and 3% were unsure… ...
    GreensBy Jan Logie MP
    4 days ago
  • Global milk prices now lowest in 6 years
    The latest fall in the global dairy price has brought it to the lowest level in six years and shows there must be meaningful action in tomorrow’s Budget to diversify the economy, says Labour’s Finance spokesperson Grant Robertson. “Dairy prices… ...
    4 days ago
  • Big risks as CYF checks stopped
    Revelations that Child, Youth and Family is no longer assisting home-based early childhood educators by vetting potential employees should set alarm bells ringing, Labour Children’s spokesperson Jacinda Ardern says. “Doing away with an extra mechanism for checking potential new employees… ...
    4 days ago
  • Housing crisis about real people not numbers
    The Government’s continued failure to tackle the housing crisis is seeing thousands of vulnerable Kiwis being kept off social housing waiting lists, while others, who are on the list, are being forced to live in cars and garages, says Labour’s… ...
    4 days ago
  • Housing crisis about real people not numbers
    The Government’s continued failure to tackle the housing crisis is seeing thousands of vulnerable Kiwis being kept off social housing waiting lists, while others, who are on the list, are being forced to live in cars and garages, says Labour’s… ...
    4 days ago
  • State of origin
    Kiwis are increasingly concerned about the food they give their families. New Zealand consumers have the right to know where their food has come from, particularly when it involves animals, and should be able to expect our Government to label… ...
    GreensBy Steffan Browning MP
    4 days ago
  • Relationships Aotearoa
    It is disturbing that Relationships Aotearoa, a voluntary organisation set up in 1949 to help couples struggling with their relationships following the upheavals of World War II, may be forced to close, says Acting Spokesperson for the Voluntary and Community… ...
    5 days ago
  • An economy that is just working for some is an economy that is not working
    The National Party presents itself as a great manager of the economy, but if the economy is only working for some we really need to question that assertion. Alongside the perpetually elusive surplus, the levels of risk in our economy are… ...
    GreensBy Jan Logie MP
    5 days ago
  • An economy that is just working for some is an economy that is not working
    The National Party presents itself as a great manager of the economy, but if the economy is only working for some we really need to question that assertion. Alongside the perpetually elusive surplus, the levels of risk in our economy are… ...
    GreensBy Jan Logie MP
    5 days ago
  • House prices to a crack $1 million in 17 months
    The average Auckland home is on track to cost $1 million in 17 months’ time if nothing substantial is done to rein in soaring price rises, Labour’s Housing spokesperson Phil Twyford says. “Auckland’s house prices have skyrocketed 63 per cent… ...
    5 days ago
  • Vital support services can’t be left in lurch
    The National Government has big questions to answer about how a provider of services to thousands of vulnerable New Zealanders is set to fold, Labour’s Finance spokesperson Grant Robertson says. Relationships Aotearoa which provides support and counselling to families, individuals… ...
    5 days ago
  • Treasury and IRD on a capital gains tax
    Both the Treasury and IRD have been advising the National Government on the benefits of a capital gains tax. Documents released to the Green Party under an Official Information Act request show that John Key has been selective with the… ...
    GreensBy Russel Norman MP
    6 days ago
  • Charity legislation needs review
    It is unacceptable that the big corporate based charities claim  millions in annual income tax exemptions, while small community based and operated non-profit organisations  struggle to gain official charity status, Labour’s acting spokesperson for the Voluntary and Community Sector Louisa… ...
    6 days ago
  • John’s panic-Key response to housing crisis
    John Key needs to tell New Zealanders what caused his sudden change of heart that led to the Government’s scrambled and last-minute housing measures, Opposition Leader Andrew Little says. “The Prime Minister’s sudden rush of blood to his head followed… ...
    6 days ago
  • Keep our Assets Christchurch Campaign: An update
    I recently presented my submission to keep Christchurch Council assets at the Christchurch City Council’s public hearings on its 10 year plan on 13 May. The hearings are live-streamed and recorded so you can watch them on www.ccc.govt.nz. The Council’s… ...
    GreensBy Eugenie Sage MP
    6 days ago
  • John Key finally admits there’s a housing crisis
    John Key’s weak measures to rein in the astronomical profits property speculators are making are an admission – finally – that there is a housing crisis, Labour Leader Andrew Little says. “But yet again National is tinkering with the housing… ...
    7 days ago
  • Government stifles voices in CYFs review
    The Government’s exclusion of the Māori Women’s Welfare League in a panel on the future of CYFs is a cynical ploy to stifle views, says Labour’s Māori Development Spokesperson Nanaia Mahuta. “It's unbelievable that a significant review on the future… ...
    1 week ago
  • Speech to the Otago Chamber of Commerce
    Thank you very much for the opportunity to be here today. It’s a pleasure as always to be back in the town that raised me. Growing up in St Kilda meant that there was one thing that was a big… ...
    1 week ago
  • Key can’t just be Prime Minister for Parnell
    John Key must show New Zealanders in next week’s Budget that he is more than the Prime Minister for Parnell, and is also the Prime Minister for Pine Hill, Putararu and Palmerston North, Labour’s Finance spokesperson Grant Robertson says. In… ...
    1 week ago
  • Stop the conversions
    This week, some Waikato locals took me and intrepid photographer Amanda Rogers on a tour of some  lakes and waterways in their region, and up to the massive dairy conversions in the upper catchment of the Waikato River. It… ...
    GreensBy Catherine Delahunty MP
    1 week ago
  • More regional jobs go in Corrections reshape
    News that 194 Corrections staff are to lose their jobs will have ramifications not only for them and their families but for the wider community, Labour’s Corrections spokesperson Kelvin Davis says. Prison units at Waikeria, Tongariro and Rimutaka face closure… ...
    1 week ago
  • Government’s climate meetings off to a bumpy start
    On Wednesday, I attended a hui and an evening meeting that the Government had organised in Nelson as part of its climate change consultation tour, to support the Nelson community telling the Government to take meaningful action on climate change.… ...
    GreensBy Steffan Browning MP
    1 week ago
  • Taxpayers the only ones left feeling blue
    Ministry of Social Development bosses could have saved themselves thousands of dollars in consultants’ fees by providing staff with rose-tinted spectacles, Labour’s State Services spokesperson Kris Faafoi says. A report out today reveals the Ministry is spending over half a… ...
    1 week ago
  • Why are the regions still facing restrictions?
    Labour's Housing spokesperson Phil Twyford is questioning why the regions should continue to be saddled with LVR lending restrictions announced by the Reserve Bank today. “Labour has been calling for the regions to be exempted from LVRs for the best… ...
    1 week ago
  • The high costs of weak environmental regulation
    Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere is described on the Department of Conservation website as “Canterbury’s largest and New Zealand’s fifth largest [lake], and an internationally important wildlife area.” But the lake is also polluted by nutrients leaching from farms in the catchment.… ...
    GreensBy Eugenie Sage MP
    2 weeks ago
  • Submissions to Wellington City Council on their Gambling Venues Policy
    Every three years Councils across the country are required to check that their gambling venue policies are still fit for purpose and they can choose to consult on their policy if they are thinking of making changes. Councils don’t have… ...
    GreensBy Denise Roche MP
    2 weeks ago
  • Reserve Bank action shows Govt out of touch and out of ideas
    The Reserve Bank’s unprecedented measures today show it understands the serious risks of the overheating housing market – in complete contrast to John Key’s refusal to acknowledge the crisis, Labour’s Finance spokesperson Grant Robertson says. “The Bank is right to… ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Send us your snaps: 25 Years of the Green Party
    This year we've hit a milestone. We're turning 25.To help celebrate a quarter of a century, please send us your photos from the last 25 years of the Green Party Aotearoa New Zealand! Note: Photos must be jpg, gif or… ...
    2 weeks ago
  • 25 Years of the Green Party
    This year the Green Party sends 25. To help us celebrate a quarter of a century please send us you photos of 25 years of the Green Party!Photos must be jpg,gif or png and smaller than 2MB. If you are… ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Bay growth plan too little too late
    Today’s Bay of Plenty growth study from MBIE is another example of Government spin - lots of talk but little action, says Labour’s Regional Development spokesperson David Cunliffe.  “This is a region that desperately needs to develop the downstream processing… ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Government bows to ACC pressure
     The Government has finally buckled to pressure from Labour and the New Zealand public in making a half billion dollar cut to ACC levies, but the full benefits are two years away,” says Opposition Leader Andrew Little.  “$500 million over… ...
    2 weeks ago
  • False figures cloud Auckland transport facts
    The Prime Minister should apologise and issue a correction after both he and Transport Minister Simon Bridges have been caught out misrepresenting facts on Auckland’s transport spending, Labour’s Housing spokesperson Phil Twyford says. "Both John Key and Simon Bridges have… ...
    2 weeks ago
  • Govt books confirm National can’t post surplus
    The last publication of the Government’s books before the budget shows National will break its promise of seven years and two election campaigns and fail to get the books in order, says Labour’s Finance Spokesperson Grant Robertson. “The Government is… ...
    2 weeks ago

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